Why England Must Keep Faith with Wayne Rooney at the World Cup

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterJune 16, 2014

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 14:  Wayne Rooney of England looks on 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 Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Despite losing to Italy on Saturday night, England would still have left Manaus with an enduring sense of pride and optimism. 

They had lost, but they lost trying to win the game playing with a new and unexpected verve and adventure.

For the first time in this millennium, England had actually played genuinely attractive attacking football at a World Cup finals.

But it is not enough to simply stand back and admire an England performance, a talking point to fill the days before the next game is needed. A target needs to be found.

The target this week is Wayne Rooney.

It is a tiresome trait, not uniquely English, but we seem more prone to it than most other nations.

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 14: Wayne Rooney of England gestures toward referee Bjorn Kuipers 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 Imag
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

It is true Rooney looked uncomfortable stranded on the left side of a three-man attack behind Daniel Sturridge before being switched to the right side in the second half.

Rooney struggled to impose himself on either side, but should that be any great surprise when this is not his natural position?

The Manchester United man is a No. 9 or No. 10, and it is a patent waste of his talent to shunt him to the side.

There is now a growing debate as to whether he should even be retained in England’s starting line-up for their crucial game against Uruguay in Sao Paulo on Thursday night.

It seems perversely self-destructive to advocate casting aside Rooney after such an encouraging overall England performance.

The debate has become skewed, the facts blurred.

Despite being played out of position, Rooney still provided the brilliantly measured cross that evaded the Italian defence and allowed Sturridge to tap in England’s equaliser.

MANAUS, BRAZIL - JUNE 14:  Daniel Sturridge of England (2nd R) celebrates scoring his team's first goal with Jordan Henderson (L), Danny Welbeck (2nd L), Raheem Sterling (C) and Wayne Rooney (R) during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

In that moment, Rooney’s experience and composure gave England their only goal and most exhilarating moment of the game.

Can England afford to dispense with a player, still only 28 years old, who can boast 39 international goals from 91 caps?

There will come a time when Rooney can’t merely defend himself with his career record, but that time is not now.

Rooney has scored 11 times in his last 18 internationals and still managed 17 goals in 29 Premier League appearances for a stuttering Manchester United last season.

In the second half in Manaus, he came within inches of scoring his 40th international goal, but his effort grazed the post to leave him still waiting for his first World Cup goal. 

He was inches from being the saviour, the hero of the night and the man who earned England a point or maybe more, but it narrowly missed and so Rooney must now be banished.

England must show more faith and patience with Rooney.

Roy Hodgson must be aware that if he wants to see the best of him, he should swap positions with Raheem Sterling and be stationed in the middle behind Sturridge.

Rooney should be in the centre, emboldened and respected. Don’t ask him to defend or glibly "do a job." He isn’t James Milner.

Play a player out of position and inevitably they shrink.

Martin Mejia/Associated Press

What is the alternative? Adam Lallana is a fine player, and he has shown promising glimpses with England but has not done enough to consign Rooney to wearing a bib on the bench.

There is always an undercurrent of frustration with England’s leading players, even with centurions such as Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham.

In the England squad, familiarity always breeds contempt.

Maybe it is more pronounced with Rooney, as there is a residual frustration that he never became the player England hoped he would be, their Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

In their early years together at Old Trafford, Rooney and Ronaldo were equals. The England man was actually the more accomplished player, but then of course the Portuguese elevated himself to a level far, far beyond his United team-mate.

Don’t admonish Rooney for what he didn’t become but rather embrace what he has become.

He certainly hasn’t wasted his talent.

On Thursday night, Roy Hodgson should move Rooney back to the centre and give him the proper platform to show the world this talent.