England Look Much More Threatening Without Captain Wayne Rooney

Nick MillerSenior Writer IINovember 17, 2016

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The issue of captaincy in modern football is one of those that really shouldn't matter. But, for various reasons, it does, not least because it seems to still mean a good deal to the players, but also because awarding that strip of cloth to one particular player virtually guarantees his place in the team.

It is less a tactical necessity, nor really a nomination of the most inspirational leader in a team, but more a vote of confidence, a clear statement from a manager that, in international football anyway, this is my top man and he will be a major part of my team.

While Roy Hodgson's appointment of Wayne Rooney to the England captaincy did seem rather inevitable, since there were few other serious options, it was most certainly a vote of confidence in the Manchester United forward, whose poor performances during the World Cup stood out, perhaps slightly unfairly because he is England's highest-profile player.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

However, Hodgson tying himself to the idea of Rooney as an indispensable and basically undroppable player is rapidly becoming a problem for England, as Wednesday's friendly win over Norway displayed.

Rooney may have scored the only goal of the 1-0 victory, from the penalty spot after Raheem Sterling was felled, but England looked significantly more dangerous after he was withdrawn in the second half. 

Hodgson brought Danny Welbeck on for Rooney and moved Sterling to a more central role, at the point of a midfield diamond, a role in which the Liverpool man has excelled at club level.

Almost immediately England seemed more dynamic, with more pace coming from deep and it seemed clear that Daniel Sturridge had a better understanding with Welbeck than he did with Rooney.

Rooney was a sluggish and peripheral figure in the first half, according to statistics from WhoScored.com achieving a pass completion rate of 75 percent, the worst of any outfield starter, and had just 29 touches of the ball in 70 minutes. While this was only a friendly, it wasn't exactly a captain's performance.

In his post-match press conference, Hodgson appeared to be searching for excuses for his captain, perhaps understandably. As quoted by the Guardian, he said:

The fact is it was a big night for Wayne, with a lot of responsibility weighing on his shoulders, not least with the penalty, which he knew he had to score to secure the win...

Wayne will tell you he can play better than that. Of course he can. We know what kind of player he is. But you’re not always going to give the best performance and you don’t become a bad player if you don’t put in the performance you wanted.

England unquestionably looked a greater attacking threat with Sterling in the middle, but does that mean Rooney absolutely has to be dropped? Possibly not, for he can still be accommodated in a formation that puts Sterling in the centre, but it does raise questions about the presumption of his inclusion in every team that comes with the captaincy.

The problem with building a team around Rooney is his consistency, or lack thereof. It's well established now that when Rooney is on his game he is a superb player, but when he is out of form he is a liability, a waste of a place in the team who the basics of the game simply seem to have deserted. 

The bigger problem is these days, for both England and Manchester United, there increasingly seems to be less of the former occurrence and more of the latter.