Following England’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Spain, Michael Carrick, who was picked ahead of Frank Lampard in the centre of midfield, was on the receiving end of some harsh criticism.
In contrast, Wayne Rooney is being hailed as England’s saviour… again. I wonder how long it will last for this time!
A dispiriting night in Seville confirmed that Rooney is so important to England that he almost needs a preservation order placed on him.
England missed Theo Walcott’s high-speed sorcery down the right and Steven Gerrard’s drive through the middle. No question.
But it was Rooney’s absence that was felt most severely in Seville on Wednesday. Manchester United’s centre-forward loves the big stage, the celebrated opponents, the gruelling challenge.
Still maturing under Sir Alex Ferguson, Rooney is probably still three to four years from his peak, a welcome shaft of sunlight amidst the gloom spreading after the defeat.
On an evening when Spanish technique was rightly feted, it is worth remembering that Rooney could have controlled Xabi Alonso’s pass with the velvet touch shown by David Villa. He could have turned a defender as the Valencia striker did Phil Jagielka. He could have slotted that low shot home.
In a decent pack, Rooney remains Fabio Capello’s ace. He can create and finish. He can link up and lead the line.
Rooney’s phenomenal work ethic, although occasionally leading to tactical indiscipline as he chases too deep, remains an inspiration to others. He gets in opponents’ faces.
The strength of England’s World Cup ambitions may rest on the strength of Rooney’s sinews and bones. If the Merseysider rips another hamstring or, far worse, snaps another metatarsal, then England’s cutting edge will be blunted in South Africa.
Every United game from February onwards in 2010 will have Capello holding his breath.
A worrying pattern has emerged with Rooney: he seems to sustain his most serious injuries between spring and summer. Remember Euro 2004, the momentum draining from England against Portugal in the quarter-finals.
Remember the last World Cup, Rooney running on adrenaline and, eventually frustrated, being dismissed.
Rooney resembles a powerful case study for Ferguson’s fears that wholehearted players willingly sweat through the winter months, perhaps carrying a stress fracture that suddenly gives in February or March.
Hamstrings can occur at any time, from pre-season to May final, but metatarsals seem to stalk England internationals most from spring onwards (just ask David Beckham).
No wonder Capello and the most enlightened club managers like Ferguson seek a winter break. Sadly, the Premier League will not countenance a January pause because they generate such exceptional income from overseas broadcasters desperate for live action at a time when most sensible leagues are putting their feet up.
But if Rooney turns lame again, England really will limp into another tournament like a labouring bull.
It’s interesting to note that for United, Rooney scored in his last two games before the injury, against Chelsea and Wigan. In Rooney’s absence we have played six games, scoring fourteen goals. Whilst I think having Wayne in the team certainly gives us a lot more fight and determination, it is surprising to see that his absence so far has had little effect on our results.
The positive for us is that when he does return, something Ferguson is in no rush to do, he’ll be as determined as ever to do well for us. The results and performances should only improve… something I certainly am looking forward to!
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.