Hodgson Shows England's World Cup Hopes No Longer Live and Die with Wayne Rooney

Nick Miller@NickMiller79Featured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

England national soccer team player Wayne Rooney listens to a journalist's question during a press conference after a training session for the 2014 soccer World Cup at the Urca military base in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 11, 2014.  The England soccer team are staying in Rio de Janeiro as their base city for the 2014 soccer World Cup.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

It is perhaps an indictment of how Wayne Rooney hasn't quite lived up to his promise that, more than a decade after he made his debut for England, there is still some debate over what his best position is.

Is he a centre-forward? Is he a No. 10? Is his future actually in midfield? These are arguments that have run throughout his time with Manchester United, and now another has been thrown into the mix by England manager Roy Hodgson.

Rooney played nominally on the left in England's friendly against Ecuador—or perhaps more accurately he could be described as playing from the left, cutting infield and attacking the goal on his favoured right side, rather than being anything close to a traditional winger.

It's a role that Rooney has played before, most notably in the latter stages of Manchester United's successful 2008 Champions League campaign, when he was asked to play on the flank in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation. This allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to fill a centre-forward role, which, of course, he did very successfully.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

This time Rooney's shift to the left may also be designed to accommodate a perhaps more dynamic team-mate, specifically Raheem Sterling. The Liverpool man impressed for his club side last season, sometimes on the wing but often playing through the middle either just behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, or at the tip of a midfield diamond.

According to Dominic Fifield in the Guardian, Sterling operated in the middle for long spells of training this week, meaning that Rooney could once again be asked to reprise his wide role, with one of Danny Welbeck, Adam Lallana, James Milner or perhaps even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, should he be fit, playing on the right.

It's certainly a role that Hodgson believes Rooney can play and is one that he isn't afraid to select the Manchester United man to play in. As quoted by ESPN, Hodgson said:

We've always known Wayne has that ability. He can play several positions. This left-side role was filled by Danny Welbeck against Peru and Wayne Rooney is a similar type of player.

They are both forwards, both forward players, both goalscorers, so there was no reason for me ever to doubt Wayne could do well in that position...

I think quite often when I watch him play, he quite likes to drift out onto the left-hand side even if he is playing behind the striker or as a striker.

If Rooney is moved, it would be a welcome sign that finally, 10 years after he burst onto the scene at Euro 2004, England have realised that their team does not have to be built around him.

Hodgson clearly recognises that Rooney can be a brilliant player, but that when his form drops away it does so to the extent that he's almost a liability. Like the little girl with the curl, when Rooney is good, he's very, very good, but when he's bad he's horrid.

For Rooney's part, in interviews with the media this week he seems to have developed a footballing maturity that suggests he could quite easily cope with not being considered the "main man." As quoted by the Daily Telegraph, Rooney said:

I've learnt to enjoy this one because I haven’t enjoyed the last ones, they've not gone well. All of a sudden you’re looking back and they've gone and I didn't enjoy it. I’m going to make sure I take positive memories from this one. I hope so. I know the last tournaments haven’t gone well for me and, if this one doesn't, I’ll have no excuses. I've prepared well for it.

By pushing him to the left in order to make room for a younger, quicker player who undoubtedly showed better form in a better team last season, Hodgson would display an element of pragmatism that has perhaps been missing from England managers in the past.

Indeed, by moving him away from the fulcrum of the team, Hodgson could make the decision to drop Rooney altogether, if his form doesn't merit a place, much easier.

It has been almost an obsession for a series of England managers to try and consistently get the best from Rooney, so perhaps Hodgson has recognised that consistency is something of a pipe dream from the United forward, and instead he will simply use him as best he can.

England's hopes no longer live and die with Wayne Rooney, and for England that is unquestionably good news.