Let’s get the only real question mark against Wayne Rooney out of the way at the outset and to be fair to him that question mark is not down to him but the man who writes his name down on the team sheet, whether that man be English, Scottish or Dutch. Wayne’s best position is still to be determined although this writer happens to think he will settle down as a player between midfield and the front line and later still just in front of the back four. That is of course if he can maintain his currently waning ‘shoe-in’ selection as an England regular. Lurking on the not too distant horizon is a young man who looks likely to become the second Southampton player to join Liverpool, Adam Lallana.
The Rooney issue is a sidebar to the main debate as our boys line up against Ecuador and Honduras although Wayne certainly needs to deliver at this World Cup or he is over the hill, for some, like Paul Scholes, who believes that his former team mate has already peaked. Therefore, by definition, on the downward slope at 28. If that is the case, which any realist must know is not true, he hasn’t had a bad run in a 12 year career that ranks with the best in domestic football history.
No question that Wayne needs a good World Cup and not just because of his failure to score in eight games at a World Cup finals. England needs a good World Cup if the long suffering fans who pay vast amounts of money are to be rewarded for their patience and investment. Fans, some of whom are of a certain vintage, who recall the days before ipads and smart phones when England actually won the World Cup, never dreaming for a minute let alone for nearly 50 years that the drought would last as long as it has.
This World Cup could define the career of Wayne Rooney. If he has a good tournament he may still be part of the England set up going into the Euro qualifiers but, and it is a big but, that involvement centres on Adam Lallana. The Southampton man (at the time of writing) has been a breath of fresh air, to the Premier League and England. Not only does he display all the confidence and freedom of expression that comes with youth, 26 next week, and playing with no fear, but that expression of skill comes at the highest level, consistently. He has proved that in the Premier League and has taken it upwards onto the international stage with barely a break in stride.
Lallana is one of only two members of the England World Cup squad who can carry the ball, at pace, and go past an opponent (they used to call it dribbling). I know there are those who say ‘what about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’. Well, just compare Premier League appearances last season and that will answer that particular question. The other player by the way is Raheem Sterling but again he is more likely to come off the bench.
Watching the opening few moments of the Peru game I counted 11 short passes amongst the England players, from kick-off, and was immediately taken back to the days when Ray Wilkins was vilified for ‘crab football’ or passing for passing’s sake. When the ball went to Lallana a sideways pass or even a backward one was not the first thought that entered his mind. His natural reaction was to look forward and see if progress was possible. Next thought was ‘can I carry the ball forward’. If the answer to both questions was no then, and only then, would he play a safety pass.
That is why Adam Lallana is crucial to England’s progress and why he could be decisive in determining the future of Wayne Rooney as an England player.
Every team will go into this World Cup with a game plan, myriad flip charts not to mention the now mandatory ipads and tablets. Many of those teams will also have a game changer, or several, in their squad for when the team plan doesn’t work and it requires an injection of flamboyance or genius, a light bulb moment to turn a game. Adam Lallana can do that, Wayne Rooney is capable of that. It remains to be seen who prevails. My money is on Lallana.