Rooney leads by example in middle of England's park

England captain Wayne Rooney shooting against Wales. He has quietly excelled in both group games, stamping his authority in his new marauding role in midfield.
England captain Wayne Rooney shooting against Wales. He has quietly excelled in both group games, stamping his authority in his new marauding role in midfield.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LENS • Euro 2016 is already shaping into Wayne Rooney's most productive, most satisfying tournament since his dramatic breakthrough in Portugal 12 years ago.

The England captain's tournament experiences since Euro 2004 have been chastening for the most part, dogged by struggles for fitness, form or discipline.

As Euro 2016 began, there were accusations that the England team were being moulded to accommodate a fading force.

But no, Rooney has been dependable at worst, inspirational at best, by any measure justifying his selection by Roy Hodgson in a new midfield role.

There are still moments when the tactical or even physical demands of the role seem not to come naturally to the player.

But, when England needed someone to dictate the play against Russia, Rooney made them tick. When they needed someone to drive them on in the second half against Wales, he did all of that and more.

This was a captain's performance.

Other players - Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, most obviously - will rightly claim the headlines for contributions that made the difference, but Rooney was the player who kept England ticking over and quickened the tempo when more urgency was required.

It might not have felt like the most fulfilling afternoon's work from an individual viewpoint, but England's all-time record scorer certainly played a part in overturning Wales' lead.

England needed more speed, incisiveness and a killer instinct in attack. They needed more urgency and imagination in midfield.

They also needed to keep going, persisting even if spirits threatened to flag, and to retain their composure.

Composure and urgency, it is not an easy balance. Rooney, more than anyone, managed to strike it.

At 30, he is not the force he once was. The next Paul Scholes or Andrea Pirlo? No, but, at least in these two matches, in which England have dominated possession, his reinvention has worked.

Would it work against better opposition? Feasibly not, but neither are the alternatives particularly persuasive either.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2016, with the headline 'Rooney leads by example in middle of England's park'. Print Edition | Subscribe