Rooney's Redemption Looms Large as England Prepare for Ukraine at Euro 2012

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Rooney's Redemption Looms Large as England Prepare for Ukraine at Euro 2012
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Wayne Rooney is almost unrecognisable from the troubled man who failed at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. And we're not just talking about the superficial business of his hair transplant, either.

All the evidence tells us Rooney is calm, he's focused and he's exuding an air of quiet confidence that suggests international redemption with England is his for the taking.

Judging by his press conference interview yesterday, the 26-year-old has come upon a new self-awareness, too.

Said the Manchester United striker, per The Independent

I set myself high standards. I work hard to better my game and score goals. In international tournaments I haven't been good enough.

I hope I can put it right. I am not going to say I will because you never know what is going to happen. Hopefully if I can do that it gives the team a good chance of going far in this competition.

Rooney is all too aware of the weight of expectancy accompanying his return from suspension against Ukraine in England's decisive Group D match at Euro 2012

If England lose, they go home. And, as Martin Samuel pointed out in the Daily Mail, that will leave Rooney having contributed just 90 minutes to European Championship football during his 20s.

As the most gifted player of his generation, that would represent a terrible waste of talent.

Rooney knows it. But the big question is whether he can cope with the outside pressures, and those he puts on himself, to revisit the kind of influence he lent England as a teenager at Euro 2004.

In that sense, you could argue there are parallels with the international career of Rooney's former Manchester United teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronaldo and Rooney both starred at Euro 2004. Both have fallen short of their club form at international tournaments since, though Ronaldo offered a convincing argument yesterday that he's ready to bury the ghost this summer with Portugal.

Rooney is up next.

He'll go into an England team buoyed by their 3-2 fightback win against Sweden but still some way from delivering a convincing argument they can win Euro 2012.

Rooney's task is to play attacking alchemist for Roy Hodgson's team—to deliver a more thoughtful, dynamic and potent force going forward and transform England into a genuine threat.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It's a big ask, and one that won't be helped by the fact Rooney hasn't played a competitive fixture since Manchester United's last Premier League game of the season—away to Sunderland on May 13.

But Hodgson is confident he can deliver. 

"I am not worried about Wayne's fitness in any way," Hodgson told reporters.

"We hope having him back fresh will be a bit of a bonus. He has to get out there and perform. I have every faith that he will. The expectation is part of being a top player in an important national team."

The consensus is that Rooney will be paired with his United teammate Danny Welbeck against Ukraine, with Andy Carroll dropping back to the bench.

It's a strike partnership Sir Alex Ferguson thinks has the potential to be "something really special," according to the BBC, and has drawn comparison to the iconic United combination of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole that brought them the Treble in 1999.

Welbeck will play Cole's role as the focal point, with Rooney as Yorke given freedom to roam around him and probe the channels down either side.

It could prove a glimpse of England's future. But at the same time, a nation fears the possibility that Rooney's frustrations could boil over as they did in South Africa and mute his influence when England need him most.

Perhaps the enduring image of England's failed campaign at the 2010 World Cup was Rooney angrily addressing their fans after a dismal 0-0 draw with Algeria (from the Telegraph).

And let's not forget why he missed the first two matches at Euro 2012—as a result of a petulant kick against Montenegro in qualifying that saw him sent off.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

There's a volatility in Rooney that will always exist. You could even argue it contributes to the player he is. But for Rooney to perform at Euro 2012, he must lean on the lessons of those mistakes—and his red card against Portugal at World Cup 2006—to allow his talent to shine through.

"What happened in Montenegro was a mistake; I understood that and apologised to the guy," Rooney said, per the Guardian. "But I have no problems with my attitude or my temperament."

Hodgson doesn't either. The England manager has been highly impressed with Rooney's approach thus far and appears to have absolute trust his talisman can produce the goods against Ukraine.

"His training performances have been first-class and he has been first-class around the place in terms of encouraging all the players and backing them up," said Hodgson.

"I know there is a myth but it is one I haven't seen any signs of."

Rooney has been equally gracious with praise for Hodgson. He's enjoyed the attention to detail employed by his international coach and appears to be thriving under the new regime.

All the signs suggest Rooney is ready to take his frustrations of missing England's first two games out on Ukraine.

It's a game he'll be mentally rehearsing on Monday night—visualising himself succeeding, as he does in preparation for every game he plays.

"Get good thoughts, good moments, in my head," Rooney said, per the Guardian. "Visualise scoring goals. Different scenes over and again."

England fans, like Rooney himself, will be praying those visions become a reality.

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