And so: no Rooney. Not at the beginning of the European finals which now may or may not take part in disorganised Ukraine as well as Poland. Nor the ensuing friendly at Wembley against Spain. A match from which Fabio Capello has logically enough excluded him.
Long ago the celebrated French novelist Andre Gide was asked whom he considered the greatest French poet, to which he replied, “Victor Hugo, alas.” And asked who at the present is the most talented English player, one might answer, Wayne Rooney alas. Just as a few years ago one would have answered, “Paul Gascoigne, alas.”
Though there is this notable difference between them – apart from the fact that off the field, Rooney is a far more integrated figure than poor, alcoholic Gazza – Gascoigne has excelled in a World Cup tournament, even if it literally ended for him in tears.
Rooney, by sharp contrast, was sent off playing against Portugal in Germany after taking a kick at Carvalho. While in South Africa in 2010, his contribution to England’s ill-starred campaign was dismally negligible.
And if Gazza emerged as a drunken wife beater, it has to be recalled that Rooney when his wife was pregnant consorted with expensive prostitutes. In some contrast with the middle aged back street prostitutes whom he frequented as a very young man. No, for all his salient talents, Rooney is hardly a role model for the football young.
Yet even after his disastrous World Cup of 2010, he was able to return to England and after a bitter battle wrest a huge increase in wages even from as dominant and fearsome a figure as Alex Ferguson.
Was he worth it? Is he so vital to this shaky England team, which so blatantly flattered to decisive in the first half in Montenegro, only to concede that psychologically crucial goal just before half time and dramatically lose the initiative in the second half when a previously cowed Montenegro team began so vibrantly to believe. Yes, yes, yes; it was a game of two halves indeed, and the second half was arguably a far truer picture of England’s current worth than the first.
In that first half, Rooney, freed from the burden of being the lone striker which he carried so uneasily at Wembley against Wales, was a vital influence, his shrewdness and skills playing a large part in England’s two goals.
Then, alas, the red mist descended, he kicked out gratuitously at an opponent and off he went. Had his self-destructive action anything to do with the fact that his father and his uncle had only just been arrested, accused of a betting scam involving that Motherwell player. Who can say? Certainly not Capello who before the Montenegro match was insisting that Rooney showed no signs of anxiety. But how could he or anybody else be sure? And not being sure, you could hardly blame Capello for fielding Rooney, his potential trump card.
Now England must learn to do without him. But the depressing fact remains that they have had to do without him in the recent past, in all honesty, even when he was physically on the field.
Even with a Rooney present and in form I’d give very little hope of England distinguishing themselves in the coming European finals; though their chances would certainly be improved by the belated return of Jack Wilshere, embarrassingly enough the one English player of the moment capable of functioning as a playmaker.
In Montenegro, England didn’t have one, though Rooney at times assumed such a function. One would hope too that Steven Gerrard will be fit to perform in the Euro finals.
But though Capello, so lucky to escape dismissal after England’s wretched displays in South Africa, has been anything but an ideal manager, from his ludicrous indulgence of David Beckham onwards, the sombre fact remains that there is so little English talent.
Ferdinand and John Terry have faded. Young Jones, so fortunate not to concede a spot kick in Montenegro, is no right back and hardly looked the ideal centre half when modest, Basel humiliated Manchester United with their three goals at Old Trafford. Ashley Young fortunately has matured into a left-winger of great efficiency; fast, incisive, intelligent and skilled. But one swallow, and all the rest of it.
Should Capello go for broke and call up the coruscatingly talented and pindispensablerecocious 18-year-old Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has shown both with Arsenal and the England Under-21 team what a dazzling right-winger he can be? Shades of the England ups and downs of another Southampton product in Theo Walcott. But these are desperate days.