RIO DE JANEIRO: The clamour over whether Wayne Rooney has anything to offer England at the World Cup has penetrated the walls of the Royal Tulip Hotel in Rio de Janeiro which is England’s central headquarters in Brazil.
To be fair, the debate was already lively even before the 2-1 defeat by Italy. It had been sparked by surprisingly critical comments from Paul Scholes, his former Manchester United team-mate.
The prospect of manager Roy Hodgson foregoing the intimidatory presence of Rooney against the Italians was always faint. But the manager’s unease about Rooney was reflected in his choice of young, untested Raheem Sterling in the central support role which should once have been Rooney’s by right.
Rooney was pushed wide left. He made Daniel Sturridge’s equaliser with a fine cross but offered nothing defensively, allowing Italy to rip apart poor exposed Leighton Baines at left back.
However Rooney, apart from creating England’s pitch, did stay on the pitch for the full 90 minutes which suggests he retains the manager’s faith for the crucial collision with Uruguay.
Hodgson refuted criticism that Rooney did not look at ease on the left.
“That’s very harsh,” said Hodgson. “He set up the goal very well. We know we can play Wayne in many positions. He can be pretty satisfied with his performance.”
Controversy over a major personality player is not new. It goes back as far as even (Sir) Stanley Matthews in the early 1950s to (Sir) Bobby Charlton in the early 1960s.
Later Paul Gascoigne divided public and playing opinion ahead of the 1998 World Cup. When told he had been omitted from the squad, Gascoigne wrecked manager Glenn Hoddle’s hotel room.
Old heroes Paul Scholes and Gary Lineker have been particularly critical of Rooney. Scholes said he thought ‘Wazza’ was “perhaps past his best” already and Lineker said Rooney was too versatile for his own good.
Lineker explained: “Wayne can on the right, he can play on the left, he can even play a forward midfield role. But maybe England now have better specialist players in those positions. So what do you then do with Wayne Rooney?”
Alan Shearer, former England captain and centre-forward, thinks the answer to that question is easy. “Either,” said the ex-Newcastle captain, “you play Rooney in behind the centre-forward or you leave him out.”
The near-certainty is that Shearer’s view will be vindicated and that Rooney will regain the support striker role for his 94th cap, behind Sturridge, against Uruguay. The role on the left would then go to Danny Welbeck or Adam Lallana with Raheem Sterling reverting to his more comfortable role of right wing.
In fact, everything against Uruguay may depend not on the Rooney issue but on whether Luis Suarez is fully fit to lead Uruguay soon as knee surgery.
Hodgson, when asked whether England can still qualify, said: “Yes, of course we can. We were hoping for a perfect start against Italy but we don’t live in a perfect world. Now I have great confidence that we can do well enough in the next two games to qualify.”
Almost certainly, with Rooney starting.
One man certain to miss the game – in his case through injury – is Uruguay’s veteran captain and centre back Diego Lugano.