Wayne Rooney’s role for England should be clear: Scoring goals, not ‘playing where he wants to’

England's record scorer has an enviable tournament qualifying goals record, so Sam Allardyce should stop trying to shoehorn him into an already overcrowded midfield, writes Steve Luckings.
England's Wayne Rooney remonstrates with referee Milorad Mazic. Carl Recine / Reuters
England's Wayne Rooney remonstrates with referee Milorad Mazic. Carl Recine / Reuters

“It’s not for me to say where he’s going to play ... he plays where he wants to.”

Those mortal words are saved for a privileged few, for players of such otherworldly talent that even the thought of trying to bog them down in a position, or troubling them with anything as demeaning as a game plan, should have the manager lined up in front of a firing squad.

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Think Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane – players so utterly delicious that they should have been packaged and sold as their own ice cream. The kind of players you don’t even bother to show the team’s formation in the changing room before kick off.

So who did England manager Sam Allardyce reserve the hallowed words for following his side’s 2018 World Cup qualifier in Slovakia last Sunday, a match that managed only one goal?

Harry Kane? No, the only pearls of wisdom passed on to the out-of-sorts Tottenham Hotspur striker would have been before the match, probably along the lines of “stop taking corner kicks”. Marcus Rashford? No, the Manchester United striker was banished to the Under 21s because of lack of game time in a three-match-young Premier League campaign, and then predictably went on to score a hat-trick in a 6-1 win over Norway. Adam Lallana? England’s busy bee floated, flirted but, ultimately, still flattered to deceive, despite scoring England’s fortuitous injury-time winner in Trnava.

The answer: Wayne Rooney, whose most meaningful contribution was some tidy passes to his full-backs, the sort that, while aesthetically pleasing, amounted to little more than switching play.

In 90 plus minutes Rooney played in three different positions, none of which seemed to be the one his manager asked him to.

When Allardyce named his squad Rooney was listed as a midfielder, a role he occupied with some success towards the end of last season with Manchester United, although less so with England at Euro 2016. Twenty four hours later Rooney was a No 10, the pivot between midfield and attack, because “that’s the role he is playing at Manchester United”.

But come the end of a game in which Rooney won his 116th cap to become England’s most capped outfield player, he managed to take up three different positions. He began in central midfield, drifted briefly left, then ended up as an anchor. At one point he dropped so deep to take the ball off his centre-backs you can probably add sweeper to that list, too.

This was made all the more laughable by Allardyce and Rooney contradicting each other in their comments after the game, with the former admitting Rooney “did play a little deeper than I thought he’d play”, adding that his main task was to score goals, and the latter saying he operated “where Sam wanted me to play”.

Allardyce has put Rooney on such a high pedestal since replacing Hodsgon after England’s Euro 2016 debacle that only Nasa telescopes are able to pick out the England captain’s peak. There is considerable and justifiable debate as to whether Rooney should even be in the squad at all.

Those who argue for Rooney’s inclusion would do well to look at his record in qualifying competitions, providing all the evidence a manager needs of where he should play. Thirty of Rooney’s record 53 England goals have come in either World Cup or European Championship qualifiers, 14 in the last two campaigns alone. If he plays, it needs to be as a striker.

If it’s not Allardyce’s job to tell him that, then whose is it?


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Published: September 8, 2016 04:00 AM


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