Are England better off without Wayne Rooney?

Rooney: does absence makes the side grow stronger?

Are England better off without Wayne Rooney?

Heresy? I don’t think so. Because the more I watch England the more I become convinced that the team would be better off without Wayne Rooney.

Last night’s match against Moldova and Tuesday’s match against Ukraine are a chance to see what an England side could look like without the Manchester United front man.

For all his individual talents, Rooney distorts the England team. Tactics are centered around “getting the best out of him”. However, whilst the rest of the side are expected to sacrifice their own games for the sake of Wazza’s, the scouser rarely returns the favour.

For such an experienced international, Rooney continues to cause problems with his tactical indiscipline. All too often, when he’s frustrated with a game, Rooney will drop deep into midfield to involve himself in the game.

Despite the frequency with which this happens, I’ve yet to see the match where this has ever made a difference. It only ever results in England’s midfield becoming clogged and the remaining striker becoming isolated.

We were given a chastening example of this during the European Championship and England’s quarter-final match against Italy. With Pirlo the danger man, Rooney and Danny Welbeck were tasked with dropping onto him and restricting his influence.

The plan worked perfectly – for 20 minutes. England started the match brightly, causing Italy problems with some well-worked attacks. During this spell, Welbeck and Rooney stuck to their task, sitting on Pirlo when England lost possession.

But Rooney just couldn’t help himself. After 20 minutes, bored of his sporadic involvement in the game he again drifted into midfield in search of the ball. Pirlo suddenly started pulling the Azzuri’s strings and England had no-one to play the ball up to and relieve the ever growing pressure.

The fact England somehow made it to penalties in the match was more to do with the heroic efforts of his team mates than anything Rooney contributed.

I can only imagine the frustration Roy Hodgson felt watching the game and seeing his carefully conceived strategy torn up, by one player who’s got the hump about how much of the ball they’ve had.

Euro 2012 also reminded us of a another long-standing Rooney problem: his continued failure at international tournaments. It’s now a long time since Euro 2004, but it remains the only time where Rooney has fired on all cylinders at a major competition.

Given that he neither plays well, or can be relied upon to stick to a plan, it’s legitimate to ask whether we want to go Brazil in 2014 only to see Wayne fail. Again.

England’s qualifying group is as close to a passport to Brazil as you could realistically hope for. In the fixtures ahead Hodgson has the chance to build a team without Rooney. Most importantly, a team which can actually function as ‘a team’, and not as servants to a selfish talent.

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