Captain Rooney. It does have a ring to it and yesterday, as Fabio Capello announced that Wayne Rooney is the first-choice to skipper England tonight against Brazil in John Terry's absence, there was further evidence that a special bond is growing between manager and star player.
The Italian is not given to hyperbole but he certainly invoked some of the biggest names in football to justify his decision to install Rooney as the man at the head of the line when England walk out at the Khalifa stadium tonight. Pele, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini and Diego Maradona were all used as examples of dazzling international players who proved equally effective captains of their countries.
It was heavy-duty stuff from the England manager whose immediate response to the announcement of Rooney's potential honour was an indignant: “Why you smile? I think Rooney will be ready to be a captain. Why not? Why not? Why not?”
The smiles were chiefly because minutes earlier, Gareth Barry had been sent to sit in the pre-match press conference chair that ordinarily would have been assigned to Terry as captain. The assumption was that solid, dependable Barry was going to get the job in the absence of the injured Terry.
Capello wandered into the room as Barry was talking and the Italian seemed in playful mood. Capello pinched a sweet from a bowl on the table and began grumbling aloud that things were taking too long for his liking.
When he finally came to speak
Capello was intent on stirring a bit of controversy and announced that Rooney would be captain with the kind of studied detachedness that he might employ to pick an expensive bottle of red off a wine list.
“I think it will be Rooney. I think when you choose a player to be a captain, he has to be a leader in the dressing room or a leader on the pitch,” Capello said. “For me, that's really important. Rooney is always a leader on the pitch. Yes, in the dressing room too. He's young so less in the dressing room. But he can be, but I think this is really important.
“I remember the best players in the world — Pele, Cryuff, Beckenbauer, Platini, Maradona — they were captains, no? They scored goals? So why not (Rooney)? I don't understand why not. You have to be a leader on the pitch. Yes? All the best players were captains. They were also captains of
their national teams
“The captain is John Terry. The vice-captain is Rio (Ferdinand) because they are really good on the pitch and really good in the dressing room. I think now we need one leader on the pitch because we miss a lot of players (tonight). For this reason, I will choose this player (Rooney) — if John Terry is not playing.”
Terry did not play any role in the evening training session last night having injured his foot blocking a shot from Jermaine Jenas in training on Thursday and it is not envisaged that he will figure tonight. The Bolton defender Gary Cahill is the favourite to take his place alongside Matthew Upson in the centre of a back four that will not have a single member of England's first-choice defence in it.
As for the reasons Rooney's temperament might not make him the most suitable captain for England, well, how long have you got?
But Capello seems to regard the history of this team before his time in charge as a completely separate entity. He does not seem to mind that in May last year, Rooney made two dreadful tackles in the Wembley friendly against the United States. He trusts the calming influence of marriage and responsibility will work wonders on the 24-year-old.
Like Maradona in 1982, Rooney's World Cup in 2006 ended with a red card. And Capello will be hoping that, like Maradona in 1986, he finishes the next as a winner.