World Cup 2014: Rooney Debate Not About an 'Agenda' but What's Best for England

Nick MillerSenior Writer IINovember 21, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 16:  Wayne Rooney of England talks to Roy Hodgson of England during a training session at the Urca military base (Forte de Urca) training ground at on June 16, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

At certain points during England's 2-1 defeat to Italy, Wayne Rooney was so ineffectual that it felt the debate about his place in the side would be not if he was dropped but who would replace him.

However, reports in the media, such as by Dominic Fifield in The Guardian, suggest that not only will Rooney start against Uruguay on Thursday, but that Raheem Sterling will be moved from the central role he was so successful in against Italy so the Manchester United man can play in his favoured central position.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Using cold logic rather than in-game instincts, the decision of whether or not to drop Rooney is not quite as clear-cut.

He has, after all, scored 39 goals for his country, he provided the cross for Daniel Sturridge's strike on Saturday and his decision to train when the rest of the starting line-up were resting on Monday shows a willingness to answer the questions over his fitness that have dogged him over the last couple of years.

However, it remains true that, in the two roles that Rooney is best in—namely at centre-forward and as the No. 10 behind a striker—England currently have two better options.

Sturridge is the country's most in-form goalscorer, while Sterling provides a more varied threat and consistent performance from deep than Rooney. Including Rooney on either flank is understandable but misguided and simply smacks of trying to force the man regarded as England's best player into the team.

Frank Lampard spoke this week of an "agenda" about or against Rooney, quoted by Sky News as saying:

Unfortunately we do seem to have a fixation with one player at a World Cup, and it is frustrating when you are all in a squad working together.

We're not selfish, and rather than a debate the fixation can become an agenda, so we need to drop the agenda and concentrate on the players and the team the manager picks.

Take Wayne's name away and look at his work rate and the ball he put in, and it would be different. We are dwelling on something that we don't need to and it can become detrimental. But behind closed doors we are very determined.

Of course, it is understandable that Lampard wishes to defend his friend and teammate, and it's possible that some outlets may have gone over the top in their criticism of Rooney because of his name and status, but this is not about being fixated or having an agenda.

Those who say Rooney should not be in the England team are doing so because, quite simply, at present he does not fit into England's best XI, and it very much feels like he is in the team on the back of his reputation.

And it's not as if England don't have options. Adam Lallana or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would provide more threat down the flanks; if Roy Hodgson wanted someone to provide running or defensive cover, then he has James Milner; and the Rooney debate is perhaps masking a bigger concern for England.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Steven Gerrard had a good season for Liverpool largely playing at the base of a three-man midfield, with Brendan Rodgers choosing the games in which he played an additional attacker very carefully.

There is a sense that Gerrard does not have the "legs" to play in a two-man midfield anymore and needs an additional colleague to help him out.

One of Hodgson's other options is to pick Jack Wilshere over Rooney, play a more straightforward 4-3-3 and try to get the best out of his captain.

Granted, that is applying a similar principle to the one being criticised in the Rooney arguments, specifically changing the team to suit one under-performing "star" player, but more games will be won and controlled from midfield, so it's arguable that this is where Hodgson should be directing his energies.

Of course, Rooney may now flourish in a central role and score the goals that will beat Uruguay and take England further in the tournament, but on the evidence we have available to us now, he should not be in the team.