During every England international – especially friendlies – there are always a couple of other contests going on on the side.
One is a furious battle waged between fans of the clubs from which England draw their players – an ongoing feud over whose man is better, Adam Lallana or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, or a Twitter account with ‘hotspur’ in the name furiously attacking Stan Collymore after he dares to constructively criticise Eric Dier’s positioning, as he did at half-time in the Germany game on Saturday.
The other is an England fan’s struggle to hold on to their own, often pre-conceived opinions. Chris Smalling isn’t supposed to be good enough despite many excellent displays for Manchester United this season, whilst there have to be better midfielders than Jordan Henderson, even though none of them have ever been deemed worthy of the squad. Obviously just throwing them in will prove that. Why? Well… it’s Jordan Henderson. Enough said.
The one man who used to constantly traverse this (and in fact, perhaps gave birth to it) is Wayne Rooney, an Englishman who wasn’t in Berlin on Saturday night but has been mentioned in every single conversation about the game since.
You see old Wayne is washed up, finished, a has-been not capable of the type of slick turn and finish we saw from Harry Kane in the German capital, or that remarkable piece of skill from Jamie Vardy.
The two battles mentioned above no longer apply to him though, because he’s reached the stage where fed up, success-starved (by their gluttonous standards) Manchester United fans have given up on him, and England supporters have long since decided that their pre-conceived opinions on him don’t matter, as he’s automatic pick for the team when fit.
But then Berlin happened.
That Kane goal, that Vardy flick, and an England performance that – whilst short on quality on the ball – was at least full of pressing, aggression and a desire not often seen under Roy Hodgson. There is hope that the 3-2 win could be a watershed moment, and so action has to be taken to ensure it will be. Many want that action to be the complete culling of Rooney.
If this is to be the England that we see at the Euros, then it makes perfect sense to have Kane and Vardy as the two forwards most likely to get a game, with Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge – neither able to completely convince you that they can play 90 minutes – held in reserve.
All four men are happy to press high and set the tone for those behind them, something that Rooney seems unable to do. But to discard the country’s all-time top goalscorer completely would be a maverick, reckless move from Hodgson, a man so obsessed with being the nation’s stiff upper-lipped, Princess Diana tea towel-owning, half a mild-drinking ‘alright bloke’ that he daren’t do anything that radical.
Rooney will go to the Euros, and what’s more it’s probably right that he does go. He was, after all, the captain of the team which won 10 out of 10 in qualification, and 45 minutes against a fairly lethargic Germany shouldn’t change that. He also has 51 international goals whilst the other four forwards mentioned above have 24 between them.
Those four should go too, though, and that leaves Hodgson with a very English problem that he needs to solve, and one that he only needs to glance back at the 2014 World Cup to get advice on.
It was there that a creaking, whirling Steven Gerrard captained England’s group stage exit at a time when there were other midfielders who would have suited Hodgson’s gameplan better. Two years on, Hodgson seems to have altered the way England play shortly before a tournament, but there has to be a question mark over whether Rooney can fit snugly within it.
He has to go to France, but he can no longer go as a guaranteed starter.
Those engaged in the various battles have to agree to that – the key now is making sure that Hodgson does, too.
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