England caretaker manager Gareth Southgate has heaped praising on Wayne Rooney, insisting the Englishman is an outstanding leader for the national side.
The 30-year-old has been omitted from Manchester United’s starting XI for three games in a row following a series of abject performances under Jose Mourinho.
Nevertheless, Southgate – who will take charge of England’s next four games after Sam Allardyce was dismissed amid allegations of complicity in illegal third party ownership arrangements – has elected to place faith in Rooney by keeping him as captain.
Explaining his decision, Southgate declared Rooney, despite the barrage of criticism thrown his way, is an excellent leader.
“The decision to make him captain in is quite simple,” he said.
“What I felt from what I’ve seen around St George’s over the two years [Southgate has served as England Under-21 manager] and from talking to staff is that he’s the outstanding leader in that group.
“It’s a period of change after the summer and now this month. The most important thing at this time is leadership, on and off the field.
“I think that Wayne has provided that over the last two years. The way he has matured into that role is really impressive and there was no doubt in my mind about keeping him in that position.”
On the pitch, Rooney offers next to nothing: many have been saying it for months, and many have been saying it for years, but only in the past few weeks has it morphed into a mainstream agenda.
The 30-year-old is not, therefore, a captain that leads by example – like, say, Lionel Messi for Argentina. No, Rooney’s style of captaincy has to be subtler, cultivated primarily in the dressing room and on the training ground. He may be an obsolete item on the pitch, but his experience at the highest level, his strategy when it comes to dealing with the psychological implications of the international game is, one could argue, quite valuable, especially with emerging English talents like Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli.
Mourinho, unlike David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, has acknowledged this, and Rooney’s role in his Man United side has changed as a result. But whether the game transition occurs under England’s next permanent manager – set to be announced in November – remains to be seen.