| 11.7°C Belfast

Wayne Rooney deserves tribute: Southgate



Rooney debate: England boss Gareth Southgate yesterday

Rooney debate: England boss Gareth Southgate yesterday

Getty Images

Rooney debate: England boss Gareth Southgate yesterday

Gareth Southgate has defended the inclusion of Wayne Rooney in the England squad for the fixtures with USA and Croatia, revealing he could even feature as captain in a tribute that has been discussed for over a year.

Rooney retired from international duty in August 2017 after 119 caps and a record 53 goals, and his England career is set to be honoured by a final, further cap against the USA at Wembley next Thursday with a substitute appearance.

The England manager remains adamant that the occasion will not devalue the shirt and also described as "strange" the divisive debate that has surrounded Rooney's involvement, which the forward felt would not be appropriate in the friendly against Nigeria on the eve of the World Cup.

"Those discussions started over 12 months ago; I was quite happy for the tribute to be before the World Cup but Wayne didn't want to detract from the team at that time, which everyone respected," said Southgate. "That's why it was put back.

"Now we have the opportunity at Wembley to pay that tribute. I'm still able to look to the future with the squad we've picked, but also I've spoken a lot to the players about the shirt, the history of the shirt, honouring former players.

"The players would respect Wayne's contribution deserves the best possible send-off. I understand that's caused a lot of debate but it's a small way of appreciating what he's given to his country.

"We're a strange country in that we bemoan the fact that we haven't achieved as much as we'd like, and then we have a player who should be held in the highest regard and we're spending a lot of time justifying giving him that tribute.

"I'm looking forward to working with him and giving him the send-off he deserves, which isn't always possible."

The 33-year-old Rooney had also been England captain, but in his retirement Southgate's youthful team created a new identity with Harry Kane as its new leader.

Dismissing suggestions Rooney would be handed his long-time number 10 shirt, Southgate revealed he would have "no issue" if he again wore the captain's armband.

Southgate handed a first call-up to Bournemouth's in-form striker Callum Wilson, a recall to Everton defender Michael Keane and retained Dortmund's Jadon Sancho.

Belfast Telegraph