Rooney 'excited' by Mourinho link but focused on Euro 2016
England captain talks about his new boss and England's chances ahead of warm-up against Portugal at Wembley
England captain Wayne Rooney faced the press ahead of the Euro 2016 warm-up game against Portugal at Wembley tonight, but inevitably the focus was on one particular Portuguese who won't be facing the Three Lions at Wembley.
Much of the questioning related to Jose Mourinho rather than Joao Mario, with the assembled press pack eager to know what Rooney thinks about the new Manchester United manager. The pair have previous, of sorts, as Mourinho tried to sign the United striker when he was in charge of Chelsea in 2013. He failed, but three years later will get his chance to work with England's record goalscorer.
Mourinho has been acclimatising to his new surrounds this week in Manchester while Rooney has been with the England squad preparing for the European Championships, which start on Saturday week. Nonetheless Rooney admitted he was pleased with the decision to replace Louis van Gaal with Mourinho. "It's exciting," declared the man who'll be looking to add to his 50 international goals tonight. "Jose is one of the best managers in the world. He knows the Premier League really well. For myself and the other United players, it's exciting times and I'm looking forward to it."
Rooney won't meet Mourinho until the middle of July when he returns to Old Trafford. In the meantime he's fully focused on the European Championships. It's a tournament he knows well, having burst onto the international scene in the 2004 European Championships as an 18-year-old and becoming the youngest scorer in the tournament history. Twelve years later and the United frontman is one of only four players aged 30 or over in the squad.
But the fact that the 23-man England squad is the youngest in Euro 2016 with an average age of 25 doesn't faze Rooney. Far from it. "It's a young squad but we've got a lot of quality," he said. "A lot of players have been put into their league teams and taken their chance, and they deserve to play. I've always believed I've been fortunate to benefit from being put in there as a 16-year-old, getting my chance and taking it."
Rooney won't have the chance tonight to go head-to-head with former United teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, as he and Pepe are both rested having played their part in Real Madrid's Champions League triumph last Saturday.
Nonetheless England will need to be at their best if they are to win at Wembley. In 11 matches against Portugal stretching back to 1974, England have won one, lost four and drawn six, with their solitary success a 3-0 win in 1998.
"It's a friendly but for us friendly games don't really exist," said Southampton's Portuguese defender Cedric Soares. "We are going to be at our best. This is a very important game for us. We always look to win, so it's going to be a very competitive game."
That will please Three Lions manager Roy Hodgson, who will want his side to have a thorough workout nine days before England play Russia in their European Championship opener. Asked if he knew his starting XI for that match, Hodgson replied: "I have been close for a long time, because these are players that I have worked with for a long period of time... I know the players, I know what they can bring, and we are capable of playing against Russia almost with two elevens."
As to the composition of tonight's team, Hodgson was reluctant to go into details on Wednesday afternoon, saying only: "It will be a strong team against Portugal. Wayne Rooney will be the captain and will obviously play, but I am not prepared to give too much away in terms of the other players who will start."