The intentions of Wayne Rooney in the lead up to the World Cup in Brazil was to step out from the shadows and show his true talents on the world stage. Unfortunately for him, those ambitions are being hampered slightly by the position he is being asked to play by England manager Roy Hodgson.
Against Italy on Saturday, Rooney was played on the left side of the midfield, and although the Manchester United man did get an assist in the game and played reasonably well, it’s still not his ideal position if the team is looking to get the best out of the player. Rooney was okay in attack, but playing wide stifles the freedom he usually has and gives him defensive duties which take away from his ability to attack.
As well as curbing some of Rooney’s attacking play, it also hinders the team as Rooney is not as reliable defensively as players who are more familiar with the role. Against Italy, Rooney failed to give Leighton Baines the kind of defensive shield that he is used to from conventional left midfield players, and it hurt the team overall.
The Italian right-back, Matteo Darmian, raided that flank regularly and was a threat as he continually exploited the space that Rooney left behind, also doubling up on Baines with Antonio Candreva on occasions. Being defensively competent is not normally in Rooney’s repertoire, and it doesn’t have to be. However, if you play on the left side of the midfield, then you have defensive duties as part of that role and Rooney was incapable of carrying those out effectively.
The reason why Rooney was thrust out to the left side was to accommodate rising star Raheem Sterling, and although Sterling had a good game too, he is clearly a more natural fit to play on the left than Rooney. Sterling understands the role more accurately, especially defensively, with having played the position for years before recently adapting into a more central role.
The Brits have two individually talented players with Rooney and Sterling, but getting them into the right positions will help the team overall. In the long run, Sterling may well prove the better option to play centrally behind Liverpool teammate, Daniel Sturridge, but for now, Rooney needs to play there and be freed up to totally express himself offensively.
Whether Rooney will step out from the shadows and show his true capabilities in this World Cup is unknown, but England must give him the best chance to do that for them. For that to happen, that means they should give him the opportunity he craves most: a central role with the freedom to be the star of the show.
And from there, it’s up to him to deliver.