Play Rooney in his role or don’t play him at all

In 2010, as England laboured through a group containing the USA, Slovenia and Algeria, fans were left baffled by the sight of a team lacking inventive, guile and treated attacking football as if it was a virus.

To a lesser extent, the same issues blighted England’s qualifying campaign, with Roy Hodgson’s team criticised and derided for their style of football, so pedestrian and pragmatic that it hailed from the “dark ages” according to Gary Lineker.

How ironic, then, that four years on England find themselves needing a win against Uruguay to avoid crashing out of a World Cup after two games for the first time in 60 years despite Hodgson’s decision to adopt an approach diametrically opposite to the one he was lambasted for.

As if worrying about Luis Suarez’s return for Uruguay and the pressure that the prospect of failure brings with it, the England manager has had a tactical conundrum on his hands for almost a week.

In fact, Hodgson’s has had a decision to make since he decided to play Raheem Sterling in the number 10 position during England’s opening game against Italy, where Wayne Rooney was deployed wide on the left and, according to many, failed to deliver.

As England new-found attacking boldness was exemplified by Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, Rooney cut an increasingly frustrated and forlorn figure along the left touchline and his fortunes did not improve after he was switched to the other side of the pitch.

Blaming Rooney for Saturday’s defeat, however, is a rather disingenuous exercise, for it was the Manchester United number 10 who set up Sturridge’s equaliser with a wonderful cross and there was little he or any of his teammates could have done to prevent the Italians from delivering a tactical lesson in how to close a game down.

Rooney’s impact against Italy was minimal and he’s never delivered for England at the World Cup but there are mitigating circumstances for him, the most obvious being that he was played out of position to accommodate Sterling.

The Liverpool man’s presence caused Italy troubles but stifled Rooney’s attacking threat, for while Sterling’s pace and direct approach allow him to be effective on the wing as much as behind the striker, the same can’t be said of Rooney.

England’s leading goalscorer in the qualifying campaign is at his best when deployed up-front or just behind the main striker and not when asked to play in a role that, quite clearly, is not his.

On the other hand, the myth according to which Rooney can only blame his selflessness for being asked to cover a multitude of roles is only valid to a point, given the 28-year-old was more than eager to point to Sir Alex Ferguson which role he thought best suited him.

Ironically, playing as creative midfielder might suit Rooney infinitely more than being asked to cover either wing but the fact of the matter is that he remains one of England’s best players and, as such, should be given the chance to play where he can be at his most effective.

Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all capable to cover the role Rooney was asked to play in on Saturday and if that means England will have a better chance of beating Uruguay then Rooney must make way for one of them, but if Hodgson wants his best team on the pitch, then Wayne Rooney must play and his must play in his role.

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