Rooney proving a worry for Hodgson


IN THE early days of the Euro 2012 finals, Wayne Rooney flew his wife and child to Warsaw aboard a private jet.

An unwelcome reminder of the Wag frenzy of Baden-Baden six years ago, it was the kind of self-indulgence to which England’s defeat in Kiev on Sunday night should finally, at long last, put a stop.

Following another quarter-final exit at the 2006 World Cup, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s valedictory address contained a firm instruction to the nation in respect of Rooney. “Don’t kill him because you will need him,” the Swedish manager said.

After Sunday night there is a feeling that England have taken care of their most naturally gifted player not wisely but too well, and that perhaps the way to treat him now – like the rest of his team-mates – is as just another player.

So yet another unhappy footnote is added to the catalogue of major tournaments in which Rooney has been involved. In 2004, having announced himself as an 18-year-old of blazing allure, he left the European Championship with a broken metatarsal.

Two years later, following a similar injury, he arrived at the World Cup in Germany barely half-fit and was sent off for stamping on an opponent as England again went out at the quarter-final stage.

An ankle injury kept him out of the match against Croatia at Wembley that cost England a place at the Euro 2008 finals, and the alarming slump in form that affected him throughout 2010 seriously compromised England’s campaign in South Africa.

Now Roy Hodgson, having spent several weeks carefully building a mood of heightened expectation around Rooney’s return to the side after his two-match suspension, can only be dismayed by the outcome. The player’s complete failure to make a substantive impact on the quarter-final on Sunday – his efficiently taken penalty apart – symbolised the disappointing nature of England’s defeat.

Such an error came as a surprise from a man of Hodgson’s experience and intelligence. He must have known he was giving a hostage to fortune when he repeatedly spoke with such deliberate emphasis about the impact Rooney’s return would make on the team.

Since the warm-up matches and the first two fixtures of the finals had gone better than expected, it could not have been a ploy aimed at geeing up the other members of his squad or lifting the supporters’ spirits. It can only have been directed at Rooney himself.

Was Hodgson trying to give Rooney a level of performance to aim at, despite knowing that he would be coming back into the side after only half an hour of football in more than a month, or was he just lavishing him with praise in order to get him onside? Either way, the ploy did not pay a dividend.

When the first substitutions were made on Sunday, an hour into the match, it was a surprise to see that the manager had opted to withdraw Danny Welbeck rather than Rooney in order to bring on Andy Carroll. Whereas Welbeck had been spirited and alert, by that time Rooney had become sluggish. When the ball reached him, England’s moves tended to break down. Only his status, it seemed, kept him on the pitch.

In fact he did not look a million miles away from the surly, clearly unfit figure who spent the finals of the 2010 World Cup two years ago demonstrating how external factors can deprive even such a gifted player of his touch and motivation.

Not, perhaps, quite as poor as during those dismal weeks on the veldt, but no more able to exert a positive influence as his team slipped out of Euro 2012 with a performance that had Italian observers wondering how England’s single hallmark virtue of competitive aggression could have been so comprehensively mislaid.

Guardian Service

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