Wayne Rooney Must Play in His Right Position for England, or Not Play at All

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2014

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 14:  Wayne Rooney of England reacts during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between England and Italy at Arena Amazonia on June 14, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

The pitch, the weather, the Amazon—they were all talking points ahead of England's opening World Cup clash with Italy, but after a 2-1 defeat for Roy Hodgson's side, just one will remain: Wayne Rooney and where to play him.

After all the hype, the conditions in Manaus were forgotten as the Three Lions and Azzurri played out an enthralling Group D encounter. With Rooney starting on the left of England's attacking three, the Manchester United man continues to be the focus of attention.

His place in this England team is a debate that rages on—and for good reason.

Save for an exquisite pass that assisted Daniel Sturridge for England's equalizer in the 37th minute, Rooney was largely ineffective against Italy.

He cut a frustrated figure, playing out wide and away from the action in the middle—the very place he likes to operate to cause maximum damage to his opponents.

When Sturridge was replaced by Adam Lallana on 80 minutes, Rooney was moved more central, although it was too little, too late by then. The game was slipping from England's grasp, and with the danger areas proving more congested as the Italians threw bodies into the middle, Rooney found little by way of opportunities.


We knew it before kick-off, and the Italy defeat confirmed the fact all the more that if Rooney isn't a central figure, he cannot be accommodated in Hodgson's team. England have too many options these days to deny other players who would prove more effective.

For the first time since Italia '90, we saw an exciting England line-up at a World Cup. With an abundance of youth in attack, the shackles appeared to be off as the likes of Raheem Sterling, Danny Welbeck and Sturridge showed little fear in going toe-to-toe with Italy.

They gave a good account of themselves, too, causing problems and deservedly entering the break all square at 1-1 after Claudio Marchisio had opened the scoring, with Sturridge cancelling out his strike two minutes later.

For all the positives in Manaus, the Rooney dilemma lingers and needs to be addressed before it becomes a defining point of what can still be a positive World Cup for England.

It's a waste to have a player of his talents operating wide, anyhow. He's talented enough to be England's main striker or deployed in the coveted No. 10 role that would involve him in much more of England's offensive movement.

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 14:  Daniele De Rossi of Italy fights off Wayne Rooney of England during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between England and Italy at Arena Amazonia on June 14, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Rooney struggles to impose himself on matches when played out of position, and as he searches for possession, looking for an in to justify his selection, he often leaves gaps—big gaping holes.

On the surface England's defeat to Italy appeared a simple case of one team taking its chances while the other lacked a killer instinct in the final third.

It's true: Mario Balotelli had just one clear-cut opportunity, and when Antonio Candreva picked him out, he made no mistake to put Italy in front with what turned out to be the winner. England squandered plenty of their own chances, yet there was more to it.

With Ashley Cole dropped altogether from England's 23-man squad, some will begin to question the wisdom in Hodgson's decision after Leighton Baines was exploited constantly by Italy's attackers on the left side of England's defence.

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 14:  Wayne Rooney of England reacts towards the referee during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between England and Italy at Arena Amazonia on June 14, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

It's a factor that came from Rooney's selection, however, with those wide-open gaps he leaves being exploited, meaning Baines was left isolated and often marking two men without protection further forward.

For all the strength England showed offensively, Rooney proved their weak link at the back. Too many negatives came from his selection, and high profile or not, he cannot be carried.

On the back of their shocking 3-1 defeat of Uruguay, Costa Rica have blown Group D wide open.

It was supposed to be about picking up points and avoiding defeat against the big teams, with the Costa Rica game taking care of itself.

Now England cannot afford anything but a win when they face the Uruguayans in Sao Paulo on Thursday, and in so doing, they cannot afford Rooney being played out of position.

"We put so much into [the game against Italy] and we came away with nothing," England captain Steven Gerrard told BBC Sport (via Goal.com) in his post-match interview.

Only England did. They salvaged pride, redefined how the world views them on the biggest stage, and despite defeat, have built a platform to make Brazil 2014 a tournament to remember.

Fail to address Rooney's role, however, and it may well prove to be very different.