Wayne Rooney: beast-mode or bust for England's talisman
Restored to the middle, can Wayne Rooney finally deliver for England?
Sven Goran Eriksson's final act as England manager in 2006 was to warn English fans and the media not to "kill" Wayne Rooney, then just 20 years old, "because you will need him".
Eight years later and, inevitably, Rooney's head is on the block. It is clear that he is already dead to a large number of fans, who think that England no longer need him.
He was played out of position on the left wing against Italy in the first match of the World Cup, and despite teeing up Daniel Sturridge for England's goal and covering more ground than any other player on the pitch, he fluffed England's best chance of a second goal and attracted plenty of criticism.
Ahead of the crunch game against Uruguay there have even been calls for him to be left out of the team altogether, with informal online polls urging Roy Hodgson to persist with Raheem Sterling in the middle of the pitch, while TV pundits have been calling for him to play centrally or not at all.
Against that backdrop, Rooney seems certain to regain his berth in the traditional number ten position against Uruguay, operating in the centre behind Daniel Sturridge. It turns the match against Uruguay into a crunch game for Rooney, who has never scored at a World Cup in nine attempts, as well as for England.
If it pays off, then allowing the frustrated Manchester United striker off the leash to put in a beast-mode performance in the middle will be seen as a tactical masterstroke from Roy Hodgson. If it fails, then England could be on the plane home and Rooney's stock will have fallen even further.
"England and English football's relationship with Rooney has reached a cross-roads," says Jason Burt in the Daily Telegraph. "So far the prodigy has fallen short and maybe what Brazil 2012 is starting to show is that the English love affair with Rooney is finally over because it has been unrequited for so long."
He calls Hodgson's decision to restore Rooney to the number ten role "fascinating".
And while the player, according to The Guardian, "remains desperate to make a positive impression having been frustrated in Germany eight years ago and South Africa in 2010" he is in the last-chance saloon.
"All it will take for Rooney to dull the memory of ignominy and humiliating defeat in South Africa is one decisive performance on the biggest stage when his country needs him most," says Goal.com. "The alternative – being outshone by a clearly unfit Luis Suarez and an out-of-form Edinson Cavani – will likely see his tarnished England legacy cemented forever. The stakes could not be higher. ·