Gareth Southgate says he supports plans to bring Wayne Rooney out of international retirement for a farewell England appearance in next week’s friendly against the United States. I don’t believe that for a minute.
I would like to know who made the mystifying decision to recall Rooney – which is completely at odds with the progressive, youth-focused, counter-attacking and pace-led approach Southgate has fostered – but I’d be hugely surprised if it was the England manager.
It’s an unprecedented and unnecessary move. No other England greats have ever received this special treatment – David Beckham even rejected the offer of a similar swansong under Fabio Capello in 2010 because he only wanted to be picked on merit.
That is how it should be: sentiment shouldn’t come into it and caps shouldn’t be given away as favours. No one was feeling sorry for Rooney on 119 caps; this is just making it a round number by handing him a cap that he doesn’t need.
More than that, though, it’s not in the team’s best interests to recall Rooney for a number of reasons.
England ought to be taking this game against the USA seriously. Southgate will be looking to improve with every match and, despite a hugely encouraging World Cup and last month’s landmark win against Spain, there remains plenty of room for improvement.
The team has had a tendency to become weak and disjointed in the second half. With an important Nations League fixture against Croatia three days later, England would be better off working on that against the USA than – as is believed to be the plan – bringing on a 33-year-old who hasn’t played international football since 2016 for a pointless cameo after the interval.
Recalling Rooney could also have negative impact on the dressing room. Southgate has found a recipe for good team spirit based on the importance of the collective. There are established hierarchies. He doesn’t want to fiddle with that.
This game will inevitably become The Wayne Rooney Show. All preparations – training sessions, media – will be affected. Who do you think will be taking any late penalties or free-kicks around the box? It will all take away from what these few days could and should be about.
Rooney’s charity stands to benefit from the occasion – the game is being billed as the Wayne Rooney Foundation International, although it won’t receive any ticket revenue – and of course it is always laudable when football helps good causes.
But that aim – and honouring Rooney’s achievement of becoming England’s all-time record scorer with 53 goals – could be achieved with a simple pre-match presentation on the pitch instead.
Perhaps it was felt by some at the Football Association that wheeling Rooney out for one last hurrah would add interest – and a few thousand ticket sales – to a fixture that otherwise would not hold much appeal. To me, it smacks of a commercially-minded decision and it looks like an own goal by the FA.