Wayne Rooney: is it time to drop England's 'faded relic'?
The man who was supposed to be England's talisman is under fire after another lacklustre show
So now it's nine and counting. Perhaps the least surprising thing about England's 2-1 defeat to Italy at the World Cup on Saturday night was another underwhelming performance by Wayne Rooney, supposedly one of the best strikers of his generation yet still searching for his first World Cup goal after nine appearances.
Granted, the Manchester United striker teed up Daniel Sturridge for England's equaliser in Manaus but that was about as far as Rooney's contribution went. Factor in his diffidence in dropping back to help his left-back, Leighton Baines, in resisting a wave of Italian attacks and his failure to bury a glorious second-half chance, some are asking whether it wouldn't be in England's best interest if he was dropped for Thursday's critical clash with Uruguay.
In the aftermath of Saturday's defeat in Manaus, Roy Hodgson defended his striker, the England manager telling reporters: "There's always going to be one player who there's a big debate around but I think it's very harsh to criticise Rooney's performance today because for me he played well."
In fairness to Rooney, he was played out of position on the left though if he is good as his supporters insist, shouldn't he be able to slot in anywhere, particularly given that he'd played there in the recent warm-up matches against Ecuador and Honduras? The Daily Mail certainly had little sympathy proclaiming he "embarrassed himself" with his display and The Guardian accused him of being "miserable in performance and demeanour".
Nevertheless Rooney's former United and England team-mate Paul Scholes said he suffered as a result of being asked to take on an unfamiliar role. "The disappointing thing was not the way Wayne Rooney played but where he was played," said Scholes, who appeared eager to atone for his criticism of Rooney earlier in the month. "I don't blame Wayne one little bit... where's the confidence in Wayne to say: 'You're our main player. You're our centre forward?' If he plays there, he scores goals."
But he doesn't, or at least not in World Cups. This is third tournament and in nine matches he's yet to find the back of a net, a damning stat compared to predecessors such as Gary Lineker (10 goals in 12 starts) and Michael Owen (four in 10 starts).
For the media, patience is wearing thin. Sky Sports says that the player who ten years ago took the 2004 European Championships by storm – scoring four goals in four games – "looked like a faded relic" against Italy. A decade ago it was Rooney hailed as the bright young thing but now he looks old and off the pace compared to Sterling and Sturridge. "There was no lack of effort or energy, but this England team plays at twice his speed," says Sky Sports. The solution? "Perhaps Rooney is the strongest option England have off the bench... It would be a brave move to drop Rooney, but Hodgson will be encouraged by the country's reaction to England's daring display in Manaus."
The Daily Telegraph agrees that it's time for the English press to get over their "obsession" with Rooney; he is never now going to be the player they once hoped, the striker to score the goals that would win the World Cup. "The one-man show has now closed," writes Paul Hayward. "The news obsession with Rooney has given way to interest in younger, fresher names."
Former England midfielder turned pundit Alan Mullery echoed the sentiment, saying Hodgson can't keep putting his faith in Rooney: "I don't think Wayne Rooney should start against Uruguay. He did not look like he was enjoying himself... I would leave him out because we have to get the balance right. Rooney is a big star but he cannot play wide on the left so we should pick someone who can."
The majority of England fans appear to agree. By Monday morning a poll on the Manchester Evening News website revealed that 66 percent believe Rooney should be dropped, a scenario the player himself admitted is a possibility. "Why would I feel my place in the team is guaranteed?" Rooney told The Times, when challenged by reporters on Sunday. "I work hard to try and get into that team. I have never said my place is guaranteed. I don't expect to play, but I work hard... we have got a lot of good young players so we will all work hard. We all give the manager different options, different choices, and whoever he picks then I am sure we will all respect that."