From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.43 :: Oct. 27, 2011

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FOOTBALL / KICKING AROUND

Rooney and after

England will miss Wayne Rooney for the group stage games at Euro 2012 following his red card in the last qualifying match against Montenegro. England will find it hard to replace the talismanic forward, writes Brian Glanville.

AP

Rebellious child… Another red card for Wayne Rooney.

England must start the coming European Championship finals without Wayne Rooney. Very properly sent off for kicking wildly at a Montenegro opponent in a match which he, like England themselves, had begun so well, only for the team and indeed Rooney himself to fade away in the second half. It was not, of course, Rooney's first expulsion when playing for England. In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, as a result of a kick at the Portuguese centre back Ricardo Carvalho, he was sent off the field. And if his performance in the 2004 European finals had been effervescent — till he was kicked out of the game playing against the Portuguese themselves — he was wretchedly negligible in the South African World Cup in 2010.

The analogy with Paul Gascoigne is almost inevitable. Gazza before Rooney was unquestionably the most gifted and exciting player of his day. Unlike Rooney, he did indeed excel at the highest level, a World Cup, in Italy in 1990. But he, a heavy drinker, which Rooney hasn't been, was utterly unpredictable. Rooney by comparison, despite his consort, as a youngman and as a famous footballer with a pregnant wife, with prostitutes, was in no way as self-destructive off the field as Gazza has so sadly been.

Indeed, he has been all too shrewd and successful in exploiting his prodigious talents, returning from that unsuccessful South African World Cup to wring prodigious amounts of money even out of Manchester United and their formidable, dominating manager, Alex Ferguson.

Without Gazza, England have so notably lacked a creative player, capable of springing surprise. They need to get the precocious Arsenal central midfielder, Jack Wilshere back, but as he is condemned by ankle injury to five months out of the game, there is no sign that they can hope to do so.

As for Rooney, even when he does play for his country, you can never be sure which Rooney you are going to get. In Sofia, against Bulgaria, he was in irresistible form. Whether up front or dropping back. In the subsequent international, against an unfancied Welsh team which came within an ace of holding England to a draw at Wembley he was wastefully deployed by Fabio Capello alone up front and consequently marked out of the game. Yet without him, England's hope of success is hugely diminished. He was crucially involved in the two goals his team scored in Montenegro.

But goals change games and the in-off Cahill goal which Montenegro scored at that delicate psychological moment, just before half time, radically changed this game. Suddenly, you might say, a previously cautious and overawed Montenegro came out of their defensive crouch and deployed the pace, flair and incisiveness of their best attackers; such as Juventus' formidable Mirko Vucinic. Subsequent reports in the English press eulogised the first half, dominant, performance of the England team, quite failing to take into account that, once the Montenegrins upped the ante, England were often under siege.

Phil Jones, the teenaged Manchester United defender, a centre half played out of position at right back, was lucky indeed not to give away a penalty. The centre backs, Cahill and John Terry, looked anything but secure. A central midfield in which Gareth Barry and Scott Parker, neither a playmaker, had seemed to rule supreme, was suddenly overplayed.

And it was all too easy to remember how Montenegro, without Vucinic, had drawn 0-0 at Wembley, how the Swiss had held and embarrassed England there, in another European qualifier, late last season. And, going further back, how wretchedly the team had performed under Fabio Capello previously guilty of all that ridiculous indulgence, that plethora of cheap caps, for David Beckham.

Yes, there are consolations, above all the exuberant form of Ashley Cole on the left wing, a scorer and goal-maker in Montenegro. And the pious hope that Steven Gerrard will be fit to perform in the Euro finals. Capello, meanwhile, talks of refreshing his team with younger players; but where are they? Would he be prepared to take a chance on the splendidly precocious, exciting 18-year-old Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, a right winger like his impressive father, with a splendidly exceptional confidence? Scorer of a dazzling European goal versus Olympiakos, and all three for the England under-21s against Iceland? Strange to think that Theo Walcott, right winger in Montenegro also joined the Gunners from Southampton for a huge fee, played for England before he even played for the Gunners, and was taken by Eriksson to the 2006 World Cup, without getting a game. It might well pay for Capello to be bolder. After all in the present state of England team, with Rooney out, what is there to lose?



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