Roy Hodgson's decision to pick a young squad of players full of talent for this summer's World Cup has provided some cheer for England fans desperate to see an end to the dull, uninspiring football that has characterised many of their recent tournament efforts. This time, with an influx of pace and movement in attacking areas, England are bringing something different and exciting to the World Cup.
Their biggest problem, though, is the form of their star player—the one man in the squad who can realistically be labelled as world class when at his best.
Wayne Rooney has had a difficult season at Manchester United. His performances in England's warm-up matches have seen that theme continue: Too much running off the ball and making tackles in the defensive third; not enough magic in attacking areas.
His form is so bad, many are calling for him to be dropped. It would be a big call from Hodgson to dispense with a player who has 39 international goals from 91 caps, and one who has twice scored more than 30 goals in a season at club level.
Rooney is an exceptional goalscorer who is closing in on England's all-time record, and it would be foolish to banish him to the sidelines now.
However, playing him out of position on the left is doomed to failure. Hodgson tried this in the match against Ecuador in Miami on Wednesday.
Only by playing him centrally will he salvage his form.
Of course, the media attention on Rooney doesn't help. He, perhaps more than any other player, suffers at the hands of the British press poring over his private life and past misdemeanors. The man who has failed to deliver on the world stage must now focus on proving once and for all that when it comes to the biggest tournament in football, he has the ability to perform.
His goal in Sun Life Stadium will have helped. It was a close-range tap-in—one which he couldn't miss—but it was a goal which underlined his ability to sniff out goalscoring opportunities and may have settled some of his anxiety about his worth to the side.
Huge boost for England that Wayne Rooney is scoring. Confidence is all.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 4, 2014
With one warm-up game left before England's World Cup campaign gets underway against Italy on June 14, Rooney will be desperate to play in behind Daniel Sturridge, a player not suffering any of the issues Rooney is.
Sturridge is playing with confidence, exuding the air of a man who knows his time is now, encouraged by the fact he is a guaranteed starter against Italy.
The Liverpool striker's movement, touch, vision and goalscoring prowess are all there. He should be the perfect foil for Rooney, an intelligent player who likes to play short passes and design one-twos with his teammates. For some reason, though, that spark hasn't been there.
It's a conundrum for Hodgson. No player is undroppable, but some are worth persisting with. Rooney, of any player in the England squad, is surely worth extra faith. We're talking about a true giant of the game when at his best, and in an England side full of inexperience, his class could be telling.
He needs to regain his form. Fast.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!