Wayne Rooney: Can England Cope Without Him at Euro 2012?
In short, they can't.
Before we consider the ramifications, let's consider why it is especially damaging for England that Rooney received a three-game suspension for kicking Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic, forcing Rooney to miss the group stage of Euro 2012.
UEFA and FIFA don't want England in the final stages of tournaments
It's not known quite why this is, but there are some obvious possibilities.
1. A throwback to the "English disease". It is now some time since England fans were a nuisance at a major tournament, but the reputation still hangs around.
German, Dutch and Italian fans have been worse since. Astonishingly, neither UEFA nor FIFA do anything meaningful to ban countries or clubs that allow flares into the ground. In the recent Greek match, Howard Webb had to suspend play because flares started fires.
2. The FA has done England no favours, especially recently, with their arrogant attitude, and especially David Richards' perceived attack on FIFA.
3. Michel Platini seems to resent the EPL, and the forthcoming FFP rules seem to be primarily aimed at English clubs.
England never get any favours, as a result
The list is endless, but whether it is a Frank Lampard goal feet over the line that wasn't given; the "hand of God"; Sol Campbell's perfectly good goal being disallowed by Anders Frisk; Ronald Koeman not being sent off for upending David Platt and then scoring the Dutch winning goal....
The list is long and I guess other nationalities will say this is sour grapes, but the scales definitely weigh against England.
Why Rooney's kick was particularly stupid
1. Because you should never give an official any chance to jump on England. Referees certainly don't do us any favours—look at David Beckham's innocuous flick of his foot against Argentina when he was sent off by Kim Nielsen.
2. He's got a previous, four years ago when he appeared to stamp on Ricardo Carvalho and pushed Cristiano Ronaldo. How could UEFA possibly be lenient with him after that?
3. He's got a reputation, which has been deserved in the past, but with the publicity he gets about his private life for example, people probably have a fixation against him. And other nationalities may be more prissy about his "street" language.
4. He's put our tournament success at risk because he was never going to get less than a three-match ban—at the worst possible time, because we could have gone home by the time he is available.
5. He was being touted as a future England captain and, given that he would otherwise be first choice every match, this was an obvious choice. His teammates have every right to be angry with him now.
6. Capello had indicated that he would build the team around Rooney, so what does he do now?
How can England cope without Wayne Rooney?
They can't, because he brings so much to the table. While his temper is a liability, his passion is where he gets his "fuel in the tank".
To some he is a striker and he has an excellent strike rate, averaging two goals every five games. He also has 73 caps at only 25. Why? Because put simply, he's England's best player.
However, his goalscoring record is even more impressive because he largely plays a more deep-lying role than out-and-out striker. He brings other players into the game and was intimately involved in both of England's goals against Montenegro.
He defends exceptionally well and has a phenomenal work rate. He often gets the team and the fans going when he's on fire but, conversely, the team can lose momentum when he disappears—especially when he gets sent off.
In many ways he is similar to David Beckham in his all-around contribution to the team and, like Beckham, he has now put England's success seriously at risk.
So what can Capello do about it?
This is a serious problem.
Capello could build the team around Rooney because:
He would be first choice every match;
He scores goals and makes them;
He can link the play from front to back;
Like Ronaldo for Portugal, he can play anywhere across the front;
He covers every blade of grass and is likely to be seen in both penalty areas during a match;
He gets other players going.
There is no other player like Rooney in the squad or coming through. He is a consummate goalscorer, passer of the ball, taker of free kicks, etc. He is in some ways reminiscent of Paul Scholes when he played in "the hole".
There is no other striker like Rooney. None of the rest come close. Michael Owen might, but Capello will never play him again. The idea that Bobby Zamora was already being considered is a joke and an indication of the paucity of England's resources.
It's not all bad news
Capello was already moving forward to the next generation of England players.
It must be possible that he won't take Rooney to the European Championships at all.
After all, without Rooney, the chances of England qualifying for the knockout stages has diminished dramatically. It would make sense, therefore, if Capello jumped a generation.
I have been sceptical in the past about whether Danny Welbeck would make the step up to become a permanent United first-team player. His form this season has confounded that. He's ready. And he's ready for England.
Similarly, it is beyond belief that Daniel Sturridge isn't a fixture for Chelsea—or even that he went out on loan to Bolton last year. In the long run, I believe he is a better long-term bet than Fernando Torres. In my opinion, he has the talent to become a fixture on the England team.
He has played with Welbeck for the under-21s. Why shouldn't they become a settled partnership for England?
Jermaine Defoe, Darren Bent, Bobby Zamora, Andy Carroll and all the other pretenders don't convince me. Bent is a sniffer and can win the ball in the air. Carroll is not yet even showing the form he had at Newcastle for Liverpool.
I also think it's only a matter of time before William Keane steps up for England. He reminds me very much of Denis Bergkamp in his youth.
Tom Cleverley was unlucky to be injured in a rich vein of form for Manchester United, on the verge of breaking into the England set-up on a regular basis. As with United, youth and experience is the way forward for England.
Two alternative approaches
Capello seems to have decided on his way forward and it will probably involve two defensive midfield players now that Rooney has gone. So he will probably play a 4-2-3-1 formation to compensate. If he needs a goal in the late stages of a game this can become 4-4-2.
So his personnel using that system could be Parker and Barry; Young, Lampard, Walcott; Bent or Zamora.
This is the problem that Rooney has caused, because he would have been in the Lampard role. If there's any chance of Steven Gerrard getting back to top form, he's the nearest thing to a like-for-like replacement.
The way forward
It's a pity that this comes too soon for Ravel Morrison. By the end of this season, he could be a regular for United and, judging by his reserve and youth team performances, he is a star player of the future.
There has been no one like him since Paul Gascoigne. He is a ready-made replacement for Rooney when he matures, with the ability to score with both feet and brilliant ball control.
However, if Capello is going to build for the future, he will not only have to adopt a different pattern of play to make up for the gap Rooney leaves, he should also blend youth and maturity as Sir Alex is doing.
Let's face it, the "golden generation" never delivered, so let's move on. If we're seriously considering Gareth Barry and Scott Parker as the bulwarks of the team in Euro 2012, Capello will have to revert to the Italian approach of defending in depth and trying to win 1-0. England have never excelled at that.
In my opinion, he should build the team around a spine of experience, with Joe Hart in goal. John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen through the middle.
The defence would be Smalling, Jones, Terry, Cole;
Midfield would be Young, Gerrard, Cleverley, Sturridge; and
Owen in the hole, behind Danny Welbeck.
But that's not going to happen, sadly, because Capello won't pick Owen. So, replace Owen with Gerrard and move Parker into the gap left as Gerrard moves up.
It is a pity, because Owen has shown on more than one occasion for United recently that he can play behind a front man, and he still scores goals for fun. He brings a wealth of experience.
Even with the alternative formation the team would be infused with youthful energy. On the bench, Capello could keep Barry, Lampard and Zamora for security or Walcott, Johnson and MIlner for enterprise.
A devastating loss
Whatever personnel and format Capello decides on, you can be sure of two things:
England will be coming home after the Group stages; and
the manager will be out of a job.
Only one of those can be blamed on Wayne Rooney.
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