Monday, 18 November 2013

The Rooney Ultimatum

It has become de rigueur to under rate Wayne Rooney and write him off. As I've written before we don't judge him on what he has achieved we judge him on what we wanted him to achieve - and he will always fall short.

For all the potential of Townsend, Wilshere and Walcott; for all the hype around Barkley, Sterling, and (whisper it) Januzaj; and for all the form of Lallana and Sturridge, it seems to me that the one player England fans might reasonably pin their hopes to is Wayne Rooney.

Given his performances at the last World Cup which, on a kind day, might be described as dismal this may send us to the drinks cabinet looking for the Becherovka. That said, for his faults, he is the man who will lead us to the quarter finals and our inevitable exit to either a historic European enemy or a former colony. He is our first, best and last hope unless Roy Hodgson (stop sniggering at the back) can see something that the rest of us cannot.

The issue is that Rooney is at his destructive best when he plays ''in the hole''. The issue - as this blog has alluded to before - that England do not have a Robin van Persie. In fact, in terms of goals scored for England in recent years, Rooney is our Robin van Persie.

There is an argument about who should play alongside him and that is for another day (in my eyes if it is anyone but Sturridge - bar a dip in form or an injury - we may as well give up). Rather there is a more existential question: If Rooney is our finest player and our best hope, do we build the team around him?

If the answer is 'No', I can't see Rooney performing at his best and he will, I'd worry, see that leaden touch of 2010. If the answer is 'Yes' that may lead to (for the first time in my memory) England selecting a team rather than the best eleven players.

England should, at various points around the last 20 years, have built successive teams around Gascoigne, Scholes and Gerrard. With Scholes and Gerrard we have all too often shunted them around to fit a system. It is surely to be hoped, in 2014, we are more enlightened and build the team (and tellingly the system the team operates) around Rooney.

Rooney isn't Maradona. He is not good enough to win the World Cup single-handed. He might, however, if we ensure England play to his strengths do considerably better than we did in 2006 or 2010 even if the team - on paper - isn't as strong as those vintages.

If that means dropping big-names for the greater good so be it. Does Hodgson have the brains to do it? Does he have the guts? And, more worryingly, does he even see that is what needs to happen?

More prosaically, who are the men who can bring the best out of Rooney? In my mind, Sturridge brings the sheen but we need players used to possession football and, more importantly, people who are willing to run themselves into the ground harrying, chasing and winning back possession very quickly. We don't have long to experiment but we may have to do so.



Metatone said...

I certainly agree that England have failed to articulate a vision and stick to it.

(And in the absence of Dutch/Spanish setups, that vision is going to have to lynch pin on the one or two players that can make a difference.)

I'm curious about a team you'd put out to make the best of Rooney. In honesty I haven't watched England play this year, so I have no idea - overall I haven't watched that much football.

dearieme said...

But come the Cup he'll be injured, or suspended, or fat and unfit, or out of sorts, or in bad form. He's like a less gifted and, remarkably, less reliable version of Gascoigne.

If you build a team around him, and his ball control declines to the level of several parts of his career, you'll be entirely stuffed.

Rob Marrs said...

That's a fair point. It is, however, our only hope.

When will Roy realise that 4-4-bloody-2 doesn't work at the highest level.

I'd be tempted, come the cup, to play Barry, Gerrard and Wilshere in a trio of the midfield. Hodgson doesn't seem to rate Barry but he is working very well for Everton and would add ballast.

That means a sort of ragged three up top if you go with Sturridge and Rooney and AN Other but, I wonder, if that is the best hope.


dearieme said...

The two-footed player for your ragged three is Lallana: but then no Townsend, and no Walcott. Or, can Townsend play on the left too? He is left footed after all. How about deploying a single winger but one who swaps around between wings? Harder for his teammates to spot, though. And it's a doubtful trick playing people out of position, even with a decent spell of practising it before a tournament.

Ach, accept that they'll never beat the stronger sides and pick a team to beat the weaker. Front three of Lambert, Walcott and Townsend i.e. one intelligent footballer who's good in the air, and two speed merchants. Put them ahead of a codgers club midfield: Gerrard, Barry, Carrick - wot a laff, eh?

I don't know about Wilshire: if you play him upfield he runs into blind alleys; if you play him deeper he dwells on the ball and gets robbed. He's like Smalling and even Jones; he badly needs a sustained spell of first team football for his club. I seem to be in a minority in seeing great promise in S & J: for a start, they can both shift a bit.

By the by, if Rooney is such a good player I'd have expected him to run into more fruitful positions to accept the ball from Townsend once His Speediness had dragged the game to the other end and dragged three defenders to him.

dearieme said...

8inatuaiOh yes, and if you field two speedsters you're going to win lots of free kicks, so you'd better include Baines.

dearieme said...

Aha, but if you went for the popular Invisible Nine arrangement, you could drop Lambert and bring back Scotty Parker.

That would be a midfield wise in years, eh? Though Lampard might feel a bit miffed.