Wayne Rooney England Spot Questioned by Gary Lineker Ahead of World Cup

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2014

England's Wayne Rooney shouts instructions to a teammate during the international friendly soccer match between England and Peru at Wembley Stadium in London, Friday, May 30, 2014.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Ex-England striker Gary Lineker has instigated a divide in English opinion after scrutinising Wayne Rooney's right to a starting spot in Roy Hodgson's line-up for this summer's World Cup.

The BBC pundit is of the opinion that there may be others among the Three Lions' attacking roster more deserving of a place in the starting XI, per the Independent's Sam Wallace (h/t BBC's Nick Sutton):

Many of the stars within England's squad will have their first tastes of World Cup experience in Brazil, and the debate is out on which players make up Hodgson's strongest side.

Speaking to Blahzil (h/t Daily Mail's Paul Collins), Lineker proclaimed his support for Daniel Sturridge claiming the central striking role in Hodgson's forward line:

I think Sturridge gives us different options, He gives us a threat in behind the opposition which I think is very important. That's something that Rooney doesn't do as often. 

He (Rooney) is very good at coming off, creating space, turning, hitting shots hard and bringing other people into the game, but in terms of a threat in behind the opposition defence, that is Sturridge's territory.

Rooney has been an ever-present figure for England since making his debut in 2003 at the age of 17, but it's true that no player in the squad should be considered an automatic selection, regardless of their reputation or previous involvement.

Lineker's preference for Sturridge means he sees Rooney put to better use out wide, but the dilemma then lies in whether there are more suited, natural options, such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling or Adam Lallana:

You’ve got the conundrum – if Sturridge is up top in the system, where do you play Rooney? Wayne can play anywhere. He can play on the right, he can play on the left, he can even play a forward midfield role.

But the question then is, "Have you better players in those particular positions than Wayne Rooney?" We’ve got all sorts of options. You could have [Raheem] Sterling playing on one side, the possibility of [Adam] Lallana playing on either side, [Danny] Welbeck, of course, which has been favoured by Roy in his teams and you’d expect him to play on the left-hand side because he covers a lot of ground.

The pressures of a major international tournament such as the World Cup raise the argument of whether to pick the best 11 players or use those players that fit the intended system.

England beat Peru 3-0 in a warm-up fixture last Friday, after which Lineker took to Twitter, describing it as a "good problem" for Hodgson to have in picking from such a talented pool:

One prominent figure against any notion of a Rooney absence is Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton, whom the Mirror's John Cross quotes in voicing his support for the "class" forward:

Wayne Rooney is the only one that comes to mind when you think of where are our class players coming from. Wayne Rooney will have to play. He’s just got that something extra. He will thrive, I think, on a successful performance in the World Cup.

The experience factor is one well worth taking into account, as Rooney has the benefit of having already featured in two World Cup tournaments (2006 and 2010).

Sterling, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Welbeck have a combined total of 43 caps between them, less than half of Rooney's tally of 90. That's not to suggest international prominence automatically earns a right to a starting place, but the pressures in Brazil could prove testing to such inexperienced minds.

The opportunity to blood a new generation of national stars is something Hodgson has encouraged during his time in the England management role, but dropping Rooney would be the biggest decision of his reign.

That being said, a bold decision may be precisely what's needed in order to inspire the Three Lions to excel beyond their disappointing results at the 2010 World Cup, with Lineker raising a controversial but justifiable debate.