Euro 2016

Rooney a central figure in Hodgson's equation

MARSEILLE • An inconclusive start by England at Euro 2016 will mean that the Wayne-Rooney-in-midfield debate will rumble on.

A square peg in a round hole or a captain growing old gracefully by stepping back from the front line?

Although Rooney was England's top scorer in their flawless qualifying campaign and is an increasingly statesmanlike figure with the media, Harry Kane's emergence means the senior player is no longer the first-choice centre-forward.

That gives manager Roy Hodgson the problem of finding a home for him elsewhere.

While it would plainly be preposterous for him not to start at the expense of, say, Adam Lallana or Raheem Sterling, he has previously chafed at being consigned to the margins at Manchester United.

But does he have the discipline for central midfield or will he be drawn forward like a moth to an old flame? Can he play the bread-and-butter balls as well as the killer ones?

He appears caught somewhere between his past and potential future in a no-man's-land, an old man's land.

Rooney is 30-something now, after all. A centurion in terms of caps and with a record number of goals for his country. Already consigned to the history books in that sense.

He is the exception to the rule of Hodgson's squad. Where youth, future and Russia 2018 are emphasised at the expense of the here and now, of Russia 2016, who they failed to put to bed on Saturday.

The theory of England's formation was sound. Eric Dier to hold the midfield fort while Lallana, Dele Alli, Rooney and Sterling carried the fight to the Russians.

Kane played Alan Shearer, the striker he could perhaps become.

England missed Rooney the finisher and perhaps everyone had all forgotten that part in the rush to consign him to midfield.

Lallana cannot finish like Rooney can, Sterling cannot. Alli can, but did not when he might have headed past Igor Akinfeev.

Rooney departed early, England stopped prematurely and Russia equalised. Those questions have still to be answered satisfactorily.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Rooney a central figure in Hodgson's equation'. Print Edition | Subscribe