It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s spectacular. Of course, this refers to the England football team getting their act together. Saturday’s spectacular 3-2 victory over current world champions Germany did not reverberate in its own magnificence simply because of the fact it was a 3-2 win against Germany, but because it came from being two goals down. This quite glorious triumph was achieved with a relatively new-look Three Lions side, including both Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy who both scored, with the latter coming off the substitute's bench.
The revelation of Kane has continued into this campaign - of course he was never going to be a one-season-wonder - whilst Vardy must still wake up and pinch himself every morning just to make sure the whole thing is real. With both of these strikers seemingly unable to stop scoring in the league, it was always likely that they were going to translate this onto the international stage. And considering they managed to do so against no less than Germany, it’s fair to say they have done so with aplomb.
But it wasn’t just the Vardy-Kane axis that caught the eye against die Mannschaft, with Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Dele Alli all showing why they deserve to play a pivotal role in this summer’s tournament. The question is, though, with all of these stars performing so well, where on earth does it leave captain Wayne Rooney?
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The Manchester United man has endured an injury-plagued season and his form has been average at best for the Red Devils this term. Of course, there have been occasional glimpses of his undoubted class, but with the attacker not reaching his best over the duration of the domestic season, coupled with doubts over his performances on the big stage in an England shirt, there now seems to be a general consensus among fans that Rooney should be exiled from the international scene.
Yes, despite the fact that the Liverpool-born forward is now England’s all-time leading scorer, his place at the heart of the national side in the European Championships is now very much in doubt. For where would Hodgson accommodate Rooney?
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In a 4-4-2 he does not deserve a place ahead of Kane and Vardy, while he does not have the legs or defensive nous to play on the wing in such a system. Hodgson is probably more likely to stick to a 4-2-3-1 system like he started with versus Germany, where Rooney could form one of the three behind the striker.
Nevertheless, he is not as quick as he used to be and doubts remain over whether he could play on the left in this formation. Of course, Rooney’s preferred position would be in the no.10 role, but with Alli’s sumptuous link-up play with Kane on show on a weekly basis at Spurs, it would seem a preposterous decision to break the duo up. History shows that key members of the best international sides operate together at club level week-in-week-out and the combination play between Alli and Kane could be key for England.
So then. Where does Rooney fit in? The bench? At the moment it remains unclear. But what is for certain is that despite the somewhat kneejerk prevailing opinion that the captain should be left out in the wilderness this summer, Rooney still has an important part to play.
In a side picked on form he may not get into Hodgson's first XI, but in his capacity as captain and coming off the bench will still be pivotal to England’s chances of making an impression on the tournament. A player with vast experience at the very highest pinnacle of the game will always be incredibly important to a team, especially as Rooney is the only player in the England setup who may have once been considered as world-class.
And this is not necessarily to say that the skipper does not deserve a starting place in Hodgson’s starting eleven when the tournament begins. Against Germany the England boss opted for a trio of Alli, Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana behind Kane before switching to two up top with Vardy and Kane with Germany 2-0 up. Although Alli should perhaps retain his place in the no.10 role, there is still scope for Rooney to perform as part of the trio behind the striker.
Many will argue that Rooney’s past showings at international tournaments suggest that he does not deserve a place in the side, but with the vast majority of England’s squad now changed up from previous tourneys he may feel somewhat revitalised in a new setup. When playing in sides containing the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, Rooney was not the senior figure and though he held such a role in Brazil, the side heading to France in summer will be much changed.
In France, Rooney will be far-and-away the player with the most experience at all levels of the game and he may revel in his role as captain both on and off the field. It is easy to forget that he is a scorer of important goals and capable of individual moments of sheer genius. He has scored an equaliser in the Champions League final against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, and who can forget the overhead kick against Manchester City?
Previous England sides have been a collection of individuals but this new outfit is a proper team - one that Rooney can play a part in. At tournaments past the Three Lions have been crippled by a lack of collectiveness and the weight of expectation.
The new breed of players seem to be a lot more grounded and despite the fantastic win over the World Cup holders, they will not have the huge burden of expectation. Although he is no longer a guaranteed starter, Rooney can still help to lead the new team to glory. The fact he does not walk into the side is only a good thing - there is finally competition for places and a superstar like Rooney will be ready to rise to the occasion.
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