For the first time in eons, England will be entering a tournament without much expectation on them to do well. This will be the youngest squad entering the tournament with an average age of twenty-six. Only four players in this squad are thirty or older, in Tom Heaton, James Milner, Vice-Captain Gary Cahill and Captain Wayne Rooney. Apart from Rooney, who happens to be the all-time leading goal scorer for his country, no other player in the squad has a double digit tally in terms of goals scored. Which may explain why there is no expectation this time around and reaching the quarter-finals would be seen as an acceptable achievement.
England will enter the tournament with five strikers including Rooney. These strikers are all similar, in that it would be a waste to play any in wide areas or deeper. Watching the last friendly against Portugal, manager Roy Hodgson tried a diamond 4-4-2 which seemed disjointed. Kane and Vardy as main strikers were too far apart, Rooney in the number ten role and Alli, a better option for the number ten role, was playing in a wider left role and couldn’t get into the game to link up with the front men how he would have wanted to. Currently the top two strikers for England are obviously Kane and Vardy, who both finished first and second highest scorers with twenty-five and twenty-four goals respectively last season. Even as all-time leading scorer, it would be criminal to start Rooney just on legacy over these two. Apart from Alli, England’s other option for the number ten role is Ross Barkley. Even though he struggled for form along with the rest of his Everton side during the tail end of the season, Barkley finished with a respectable eight goals and eight assists. This begs the question, for England to perform near optimum, where does Rooney fit in? The most logical answer would be on the bench.
Roy Hodgson over the years has made some brave moves in terms of picking younger players. He has also given us on several occasions the team sheet that fans have asked for, but then serves it up with the football that he wants. This time, he has to be a step bolder and realize that picking Rooney as a starter in this England team will be cause a domino effect of square pegs in round holes. The captain has played well for his country in recent times, especially during the qualifiers, even while not doing well for his club. He has had an injury hit season which resulted in a paltry eight league goals. He is not even seen as main striker for his club, to the extent that this season he has been usurped from the spot twice by two teenagers in Martial and Rashford. Hodgson should shun sentiment and do what is right for the greater good of England. He has nothing to lose, no pressure is on this team to deliver, so what better time is there to build for the future? Counting Sturridge and Rashford, those are four better options for that spot over Rooney. Alli, who but for a three game suspension towards the end of the season, could have finished with double digits in both goals and assists (ten goals and nine assists) in his first season and Barkley are clearly better options for the number ten role.
Hodgson has alluded to the fact that England will need to be fluent with more than one formation going into the Euros, and we have seen the experiments during the last three friendlies especially. If England starts a game using the 4-4-2 diamond formation, Rooney should not start but be an option off the bench. If England starts a game using the 4-3-3 formation, Rooney should not start but be an option off the bench. If England starts a game using the 4-2-3-1 formation, Rooney should not start but be an option off the bench. The point is that Rooney as captain, for England to play near optimum, is better off starting on the bench. He should as a true captain, be prepared to sacrifice for the team as he has done many times at club level for Manchester United.
Article written by Ryan Lawson