When Wayne Rooney departed English football this summer is was a strangely muted affair. A year on from rejoining boyhood club Everton, England and Manchester United’s record goalscorer slipped out of Finch Farm and headed to Washington DC. But his one-off return tomorrow night, makes England’s encounter with the USA their most talked about friendly in recent years.
Rooney’s Last Rodeo
Rooney will come off the bench to make his 120th and final England appearance before heading back to his adopted homeland to finish his playing career in the US capital. Numerous England legends including Alan Shearer, Peter Shilton and Stuart Pearce have been critical of bringing Rooney back with some in the press claiming it cheapens the honour of winning an England cap.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on this so here’s mine; I don’t see a problem with brining Rooney back to say goodbye for two reasons. Firstly Rooney’s return is not standing in the way of a more deserving player making his mark with England. At present England’s next generation of strikers are struggling to get a game in the Premier League: Dominic Solanke hasn’t played all season, Tammy Abraham has been loaned to play in the Championship and Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been in and out of the Everton side, these players represent England’s future but for the present a senior call up isn’t merited. Meanwhile in the Premier League Troy Deeney has dropped out of favour at Watford and Glenn Murray at 34 lacks the pace to succeed at international level, should he be called up he would become a one cap wonder. Had Gareth Southgate overlooked Callum Wilson’s claims then I would say Rooney was getting in the way, but Wilson is in and looks set to win his first cap regardless.
Secondly England have a dreadful record of sending their legends out in downbeat or controversial circumstances. Graham Taylor was lambasted for substituting Gary Lineker in his final game with England desperately needing a goal. Then there was Sir Alf Ramsey’s decision to take off Bobby Charlton in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final, he did it to save his talisman for the semi-final but it released Franz Beckenbauer and England never made it. Both Taylor and Sir Alf made those decisions for tactical reasons in the heat of competition, albeit they both got it wrong but there are more controversial cases. Most notably Kevin Keegan who was dumped by Bobby Robson without prior warning and found out through the media, unsurprisingly he gave Robson and the FA both barrels. In his recent autobiography Keegan reiterates it was the handling of the situation rather than being dropped that bothered him the most. Then there was Paul Gascoigne and his infamous bust up with Glenn Hoddle. The manager was correct to exclude Gazza from his World Cup squad but again the handling of the situation and the players fragile psyche was poor.
Other nations have treated their legends better, England played a similar game against Germany in 2016 for Lukas Podolski’s farewell cap, further back France used their first game at the Stade De France after Euro 2000 to hand Laurent Blanc a farewell game against Keegan’s England. Southgate has attempted to keep former players in the England picture by having the likes of Hoddle, Gascoigne and Ian Wright meet the squad and hand debutants their first England shirt. The Rooney farewell seems in keeping with this more inclusive environment Southgate is trying to create with England.
England’s undercard get their chance
The media scrum caused by Rooney’s brief return has taken attention away from what Southgate will use this game to do: give England’s B team their chance. With England set to face Croatia in the Nations League on Sunday and the manager keen to rest star players it wouldn’t be a shock to see England pick an entire reserve 11. Amongst those with the most to prove is Everton defender Michael Keane, who seemed set for a summer at the World Cup but suffered a dreadful first season at Goodison and dropped out of contention. With Harry Maguire injured Keane looks certain to start as the left centre back in a 4-3-3 system. His partner in defence may well be uncapped Lewis Dunk. The Brighton captain has been in excellent form and joins Keane in trying to push for the fourth centre back slot in England’s pecking order behind Maguire, John Stones and Joe Gomez.
In midfield Souhgate may well give Jordan Henderson the captaincy for the night with the recalled Ruben Loftus-Cheek and fit agin Dele Alli possible starters. Upfront Southgate has confirmed Jadon Sancho will make his first start after impressing in Croatia. The Dortmund teenager is one of the most in form players in Europe at present and will finally get his first senior game in England on the hallowed Wembley turf. Wilson will get his debut too, possibly as a starter or more likely a half time substitute, his combination of power and pace make him an intriging prospect, oh and in case you missed it- Rooney will get on at some point.
Stars and Gripes
The USA arrive at Wembley in a state of flux, their failure to qualify for the World Cup broke a record of seven straight World Cup appearances going back to Italia ’90. This all followed their failure to secure a draw against Trinidad in their final qualifier which saw them finish behind the footballing superpowers of Honduras and Panama. Ironically the American’s failure to qualify has come at a time when they have found a genuine star in their ranks in Borussia Dortmund playmaker Christian Pulisic. Other familiar names include Newcastle right-back DeAndre Yedlin and former Villa keeper Brad Guzan. But interim coach Dave Sarachan arrives with a largely young and in experienced side to play both England and then Italy as the Americans try to rebuild their shattered reputation, returning home with something more than two defeats would make this a succesful trip for Sarachan.
Prediction: England 3-1 USA (Sancho to score)
Even with a reserve team England will expect to win this with a degree of comfort. The Americans will try to pack the defence and seek inspiration from Pulisic, but I expect Sancho will be the star of the show and England to win.