Belfast Telegraph

Wayne Rooney out to create a fresh wave of England optimism

By Sam Wallace

It is more than 11 years since Wayne Rooney made his England debut at Upton Park as a substitute in an England team that lost 3-1 to Australia.

Since then he has seen so many minor catastrophes, fresh dawns, old problems and declarations of new eras that one more will make little difference either way.

The new England captain began the post-2014 World Cup finals era with the promise that the team would "put on a show" against Norway for those estimated 40,000 supporters who will make up the smallest crowd ever for an England game at the rebuilt Wembley.

Both Rooney and Roy Hodgson, his manager, pointed out that the crowd will be one of the better attendances for friendlies around Europe this week, but the general point was accepted: England need to reach out to their supporters again.

From Rooney, there was never going to be a mea culpa on behalf of the team for the disappointment of Brazil. That is just not part of his psychological make-up.

Instead, as is his way, he dismissed the summer's disappointments with a shrug and then peered hopefully into the future.

"The World Cup didn't go as well as we wanted, and there's obviously a backlash from that," Rooney said. "But we want to put on a show and do everything we can to win the game. Hopefully we give the support a good result."

For Hodgson, the diminished crowd was a case, he said, of "glass half full or half empty". "We had a group of fans in Brazil who were fantastic," he said. "We're happy with 40,000 (supporters). There could be other reasons other than just a poor World Cup.

"It's the start of a school term, and people are back at work but our focus is on the performance. We can't turn back the clock, play Uruguay and Italy again. We have to perform (against Norway). We are desperate to entertain the crowd who turn up."

After all the disappointment of four poor tournament performances since Euro 2004, Rooney still says that he believes he can win something with England – "that'll be the pinnacle of my career" – although he can hardly say otherwise. By the end of this qualifying campaign he should be past David Beckham's outfield player record of 115 caps and well in sight of Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 49 goals for England.

Breaking those two records will always make Rooney's England career a difficult one to assess; he has been the best England player of his generation, but unless the team's fortunes change dramatically that will be a strictly domestic achievement.

He said in Brazil that tournament could be his last World Cup, which means that, for him, this could be the last new era optimistically regarded as a fresh start.

Belfast Telegraph


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