Rooney out on a wing and prayer for England
Wayne Rooney said yesterday that after months spent sacrificing his best attacking instincts for Manchester United, he was ready to be more selfish with England.
The striker is expected to start against Kazakhstan tomorrow in his favourite role behind the main striker rather than the left midfield position that Sir Alex Ferguson uses him in.
Speaking at length for the first time since United's Champions League final defeat, Rooney said that he preferred the position that Fabio Capello had found for him with England to his left-sided role with United.
There is no doubt that Rooney has flourished in that position this season, especially against Porto and Arsenal away in the Champions League, but it was from the right and left wings that he was unable to make an impact against Barcelona in Rome.
"As a forward player, you need to be selfish if you're going to score the goals you want," Rooney said. "It's a team game and I love playing for the team. I've done that for many years, now. But maybe I do need to be more selfish if I'm going to be playing in the role I want to be playing. It's something I want to do if I'm going to be playing up front, and maybe I'll have to be more selfish playing in that role.
"Of course, the position I play for England is — as I've said — the one I like playing most. Obviously, I haven't played that position for a while for United. Of course it's the manager's choice, but I've always said my best position is playing up front. So I'm enjoying doing that.
"When you're playing out on the left, you have responsibilities to get back and defend a bit more down the left. And, sometimes, that does take away a bit of energy from your attacking. But, with England, you can get your rest at times by swapping with Steven [Gerrard]. That allows you to get forward as well. But I'm happy to play where I'm playing."
Rooney has been at his best playing in a formation of Capello's that is effectively 4-3-2-1 with the United man in a pair with Gerrard behind either Emile Heskey or Peter Crouch. He scored twice in the friendly against Slovakia but struggled more against Ukraine in the World Cup qualifier on April 1 when one of his most notable contributions was a bad challenge on Oleksandr Aliiev.
Nevertheless, Rooney said yesterday that, with five goals in the World Cup qualifiers so far, he found playing for England a better experience now than under previous regimes. "I'm enjoying playing for England a lot more," he said. "It's been a bit frustrating in previous times but, at this moment, I'm enjoying it more than ever. I've got a lot more experience now in international football.
"At times, [I got frustrated at] the way we played. We weren't as good as we all thought. There were a lot of expectations and we didn't deliver. That was frustrating. Now, the way we're playing makes you enjoy it, as well as winning. You always enjoy it when you're winning. The manager's a strong manager and his demands on us are obvious.
"I'm wary now. In previous tournaments, two years before the tournament we've gone into them saying 'We've got to win this or that'. We didn't get close. We're aware of that now. We know what work we need to do."
From training, Heskey looked more likely to start ahead of Crouch tomorrow.
It will be Robert Green in goal in England's sixth World Cup qualifier and the worst tackle did not come from Rooney but Bolton's new-boy Gary Cahill who clattered into his Aston Villa team-mate Gareth Barry.
The note of caution from Rooney was his discussion of England's World Cup prospects, especially against Spain, who he described as "the best team in the world at the minute". Rooney missed the chastening experience England suffered in Seville in February, a 2-0 defeat and a complete lesson in passing, but he endured much the same at the hands of Barcelona in Rome.
"It'll be difficult to beat them, but we've got to try and defend, be solid and counter-attack," he said.