Wayne Rooney ready to come out fighting amid questions about form and future
Wayne Rooney has vowed to fight his way back from criticism and the bench, with recent setbacks only making the England captain more determined to prove he is anything but finished.
No longer the rapid, lung-busting striker that captivated as a teenager, he is having to adapt to the changes that come with being an attack-minded player in their thirties.
It is a difficult transition exacerbated by the scrutiny of the wider footballing world, leading Rooney's place in the line-up - never mind his role - to be inspected like never before.
Some have gone as far as to suggest the 30-year-old is not only past his prime but past it altogether - talk that inspires rather than dissuades the England and Manchester United captain.
"No," Rooney retorted when asked if his career was coming to an end after being dropped to the bench for three straight club matches.
"It is part of football. It is the challenge and I am determined to get back in the team at obviously club level.
"I think people have their opinions. I have said it many times, people are entitled to their opinions.
"It is football, you cannot play all the time, even if you want to. I am at a stage now I want to play. I've never really been at this stage of my career.
"I am a fighter. I want to get back in the team. I will work hard to try and do that, so that is where I am at. I am sure people who know me know I will come back."
Rooney spoke with a confidence and determination that belied the figure painted by Jose Mourinho, who just last week said he felt the need to "protect" his captain having returned from England's trip to Slovakia a different person.
That is not a perspective Rooney shares having grown used to the "massive over-hype" that follow his displays, or, as seen over recent days , being dropped from the United side.
"Does it gee you up? Of course it does," he said. "It's almost like going to an audition when you get turned down - you want to prove yourself to people."
Coming back is one thing, where Rooney is best suited is another.
Sam Allardyce fuelled that debate after the narrow win in Slovakia, expressing surprise at how far his captain had dropped in his midfield role.
Not only is that a position he looked set to avoid having been restored to an attack role at United under Mourinho, the former England boss raised eyebrows by saying "Wayne played wherever he wanted to" in Trnava.
"It couldn't be further from the truth, I play to instructions," Rooney said, admitting the questions over his role are grating.
"I got battered in many different ways for my performance, which I felt was actually a decent performance.
"I suffered from that, but I thought Sam's change in putting Dele (Alli) on allowed us to win the game, with me and Eric (Dier) controlling it and winning the second balls, getting balls into dangerous areas.
"He knew he had made a mistake. That's part of being involved at this level.
"He understood that quite early and unfortunately he doesn't have the chance to rectify that now."
Allardyce apologised to Rooney on the plane home from Slovakia for what was one of several ill-judged comments of late.
The former England manager appeared to see just why Louis van Gaal and Roy Hodgson deployed him in midfield towards the end of the last season, with Rooney again repeating his desire to play that role permanently down the line.
Rejecting the theory he has burned out but conceding he has lost some of his pace, the 30-year-old feels his footballing intelligence will allow him to dictate games in midfield "to a very high standard" for years to come.
It appears a matter of when rather than if that full-time switch comes about, with former England assistant Gary Neville saying this is a "transition into a new phase" of Rooney's career, just like Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard before him.
"I have heard a lot of people talking about transition - well, let me do it," he said.
"If that is what's going to happen, let me do that. I feel I am not being given a chance if that is the way I want to go in my career to expand it. I am not being given that chance to go from there to there.
"It is all right talking about your career, saying you can extend it by doing this and that, but of course you need to be given that chance to do it.
"I'm not saying that I want to go and play there. I've said in the last couple of years that will happen.
"Whether it happens now or in a year or two's time, time will tell. Listen, I believe in the managers I work under and if that's where they want me to play that's where I'll play."
Rooney speaks to Mourinho every day and is sure he will listen to that desire to eventually move into midfield, insisting he is happy to play in attack now but admitting selfishness may be required down the line if not playing.
"We chat every day. I've said before, I knew the Watford game I didn't play well," Rooney added ahead of Gareth Southgate's first match in charge against Malta.
"I didn't deserve to play the next game, I understood that, and the team have done well, so I have to bide my time and take my chance.
"My career will be determined on what we won as a team. I am not a player who is happy to not to win as a team but to get individual trophies.
"I have never been that sort of player. I am proud of the trophies we have won as a team. That is the way I am now. I want to play football. I love football, whether it is scoring or not."