Wayne Rooney will step into the City Stadium in Podgorica tomorrow night a calmer individual more able to handle the pressure of a high-stakes qualifying game in a hostile atmosphere, according to his England team-mate Joleon Lescott.
The Manchester City defender said that the squad are confident that Rooney will be able to cope with any attempts by the Montenegro players to play on his temperament, in the same stadium in which he was sent off in October 2011, leading to his two-match suspension for Euro 2012. The Rooney issue, and his return to Podgorica for England's crucial World Cup qualifier has hung over the squad since they convened a week ago.
Despite his position as one of England's most senior players, Rooney is yet to utter a word in public on the subject, or any other subject for that matter. The Football Association is still tender about Sir Alex Ferguson's claims that Rooney was punished disproportionately by the governing body and should not do any off-field activities on its behalf. It is an allegation that the FA rejects in private but has no appetite to challenge in public.
So it was left to Lescott and Rooney's Manchester United team-mate Tom Cleverley to discuss the matter over the weekend with both adamant that Rooney would not suffer from the same self-destructive instincts that led to him kicking out at Miodrag Dzudovic in the Euro 2012 qualifier and missing the first two matches of the tournament's final stages.
The 27-year-old has not been sent off since that game in Montenegro, the fifth red card of his career for club and country. He is one of only two players, the other being David Beckham, to have been sent off twice for England. This season he has been booked six times in 35 games. Last season, his red against Montenegro aside, he was only booked twice in 49 games.
Lescott said: "There will be a lot of expectation on Wayne but knowing him I don't think he will let that faze him in anyway. I don't think he will be drawing on any negativity from previous performances. He will just be focused on producing the goods. They might play on his temperament but Wayne has matured now and I am sure he will be professional enough to deal with anything that they throw at him.
He added: "The backlash could be just that it could enhance his performance. On his day Wayne is one of the best in the world so I doubt they will try to enhance his performance."
Asked if he had ever tried to play on Rooney's temper, Lescott said: "I don't try to wind him up, I just try to stop him scoring. Maybe when he was a bit younger, he had a bit more of a temper in him. But he's older, more mature and experienced in every situation."
Cleverley said that he did not think the occasion would affect Rooney. "I don't think so," he said. "He will prepare for it the same way and want to win like everyone else the same way."
There is no guarantee that Dzudovic, 33, will start the game tomorrow. The right-back Savo Pavicevic is suspended for the England game, that may mean that the former Manchester City defender Stefan Savic could move over to right-back with Dzudovic selected in the centre of defence alongside Marko Basa. Montenegro are also without the suspended Milorad Pekovic, sent off in the 1-0 win over Moldova on Friday, and the injured midfielders Nikola Drincic and Branko Boskovic.
The Montenegro coach, Branko Brnovic, said his team was weakened considerably by the absentees. "We will miss them badly but we can still put together a team good enough to stand their ground against the English," he said.
"We will park the bus in front of our goal and look for any opportunity to catch them on the break. If a Ferrari comes blazing out of that bus and we score first, it will be a totally different game."