If you missed it, England played out a fairly dismal 2-0 against Malta at Wembley this past Saturday.
It was Gareth Southgate’s first game in charge, and the caretaker manager will have been pleased to end up with the three points. But despite what he told the media, he’ll have been less pleased with the performance, which – although dominant – left a lot to be desired.
To put the result in perspective, Malta are 157th in the world. Most of the team are professionals, but a number of them aren’t. They aren’t the highest quality opposition. Scotland scored five goals against them – away from home.
Whichever way you dress it up, it was an underwhelming performance, but the reality is that it was a win. And, as they say, a win is a win.
I’m not going to focus on the overall England performance. I’m going to focus on the performance of one player in particular.
Southgate selected Wayne Rooney as his captain and ‘deep lying playmaker’, despite the fact that the 31-year-old isn’t even playing for his club at present.
He picked a player hopelessly out of form, in a position that he hasn’t played since the dismal exploits of Euro 2016.
Jeered by some fans but backed by his boss.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 9, 2016
Now, I’ll be frank: I understand that Southgate was caught between a rock and a hard place. Drop Rooney, and all the headlines would have been about him dropping Rooney. Pick him and witness another poor performance, and all the headlines would have been about him picking Rooney.
Which is exactly what has transpired.
Rooney was – yet again – distinctly average, and to be honest, it simply wasn’t a good enough performance from a player who is supposed to be the team’s catalyst and talisman.
Wayne Rooney being nutmegged by a Malta part-timer
— Juan Velazquez (@JuanDirection57) October 8, 2016
It wasn’t that he was awful. His passing was okay, and he tried to make things happen. He gets an ‘A’ for effort, in my book at least.
But it’s hard to watch Rooney in midfield and not feel that there are a number of better options out there.
The skipper played alongside Jordan Henderson, who had a pretty good game, and – to be honest – performed the role that would be expected of Rooney. With Eric Dier due back in that ‘quarterback’ role for the next fixture, it really does feel like there is no place left for the Manchester United man.
He could play up front, but Daniel Sturridge, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy are all better options.
He could play in the number ten role, but Tottenham man Dele Alli appears to have made that position his own.
Simply put, he’s a versatile player, but is far from the best in any position. If we were picking purely on form, he wouldn’t get anywhere near the team.
Wayne Rooney. pic.twitter.com/5u3hqySzc7
— Football Trolls (@Footballltrolls) October 9, 2016
Let’s be blunt: it’s time for him to be put out to pasture.
I’ve got absolutely no issue with him being in the squad, even with him being a figurehead-type captain. But if we continue to pick him in the starting 11 when there are far better options available, we automatically start ourselves at a disadvantage.
Trouble is, it’ll take a brave manager to do it. A manager strong enough to do what’s right despite fierce media scrutiny.
I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think Southgate is that guy.