After a summer of deliberation, international retirements and self-reflection in the England set-up, we’re finally drawing close to a new dawn with regards the England team. A new squad has been selected by Roy Hodgson to face Norway next Wednesday and, in the first competitive game since that thrilling 0-0 draw with Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte, a clash Switzerland on the following Monday.
The new squad is exciting, a mixture of youthful zest, some familiar faces from the Premier League, and a smattering of experience – actually, a smattering is a bit of an exaggeration – which will no doubt hail in a new era for the England team. Roy Hodgson can do a lot with this group; the chalkboard should, essentially, be almost clean – and with just 398 caps between the 22 members of the squad, the average member of the squad has played just over 18 games for England – they’re not exactly tarnished by the lack of “passion” supposedly shown in tournaments of yesteryear, yet.
In this sense, it’s clear to see why Hodgson has picked Wayne Rooney as the captain, his marquee man in the squad; with 95 caps to his name, Rooney has one cap less than double his nearest challenger in the cap-count, James Milner (who has 48, stunningly), and would quite clearly be an important head in the squad, even without the throes of captaincy. With the retirements of Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, most of the other credible captaincy options have been exhausted – fleeting campaigns for the cases of Gary Cahill and Joe Hart aside – and so it’s understandable, obvious, even, that Rooney should take up the armband vacated by the aforementioned Gerrard, and worn by many legends; Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson, Alan Shearer, David Beckham.
Rooney, admittedly, isn’t in that league yet – his international career peaked at 18, and has essentially been a poor tribute act to Euro 2004 since the broken metatarsal against Portugal – but, whether rightly or wrongly, his name will have always been remembered among those anyway, given that, at 28, he’s in a great position to smash both Peter Shilton’s cap record and Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record. He should enter his peak as we move towards Euro 2016, and so is a good choice for a hopeful qualification to the tournament, too.
The question marks perhaps entail this: Rooney’s place in the England team has been up for discussion for a while. At the World Cup, Roy Hodgson even seemed to admit this, shoehorning the Manchester United forward into an unfamiliar left-wing role, as Raheem Sterling impressed in the central berth Rooney would’ve been expecting to take up. For all the will in the world, England have to play their strongest team and, if the coach wasn’t so sure about that at the World Cup, preferring to play a 19 year old who had just had a break-out season to a 28 year old veteran, and captain-elect, it’s perhaps understandable that there would be some concerns about the direction of the squad, and the team itself. By 2016, Rooney will be 30 – he’s not exactly a long-term choice. Plus, given that he’s never really captained a team at any length before – only recently picking up the Manchester United armband, after ten years of service – when leaving experience aside, Rooney isn’t an obvious choice.
It has to be said, though, the other “front runners”, if you will, aren’t obvious choices either – they’d essentially be the next best choices in a squad with a bit of a leadership dearth. Gary Cahill has very little experience of captaining a side too – less than Rooney, in fact – at Chelsea, he plays alongside the very vocal John Terry, whereas for England he’s beside Phil Jagielka – or, maybe as the campaign moves further on, a younger centre back such as Phil Jones, John Stones, maybe even Steven Caulker or Curtis Davies – which is a big step-up in responsibility on its own, without the added pressure of captaincy. Joe Hart would perhaps be more sensible – he should remain in the England squad for most of the next decade, form and fitness permitting – but as a goalkeeper, he’s an important head in the camp nonetheless and, given that he’ll be cajoling his defence for 90 minutes anyway, adding the responsibility of captaincy might make little sense. Equally, with Willy Caballero for his club and Southampton’s Fraser Forster for his country, Hart has some reliable deputies who could easily take over the number one shirt and not relent if given the chance.
One alternative which is surely mind-blowing – one which would make a lot of sense with a young, inexperienced squad where there are few guaranteed starters, and the need for experience before a major tournament in pretty much all areas of the pitch – but nonetheless wasn’t considered, is perhaps to scrap the captain nonsense for a couple of years.
Yes, a captain has his role in the team, and on the field having a leader – or multiple leaders – is definitely important, but essentially, Roy Hodgson could have waited until choosing his squad in 2016 to pick his captain, thereby allowing a bunch of youngsters to grow in stature together on the international stage, all knowing they’re playing for places, and that they have to be vocal on the pitch to push each other on. A captain, in a qualifying campaign at least, is largely important for media commitments – Hodgson could just nominate senior players to handle that, like at the World Cup – while on the pitch, the armband could be rotated around several players in the squad to find someone who really relishes the challenge to take England forward.
It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect such a thing to happen – clearly, given that Rooney was selected by Hodgson – but would be an interesting route to go down with such a youthful squad; at the end of the two-year qualification process, we may have well found that Rooney can be the inspirational captain the Three Lions need, but nailing him on as the captain now could perhaps allow complacency in his international performances to creep back in, and stifle some of the younger players in the England set-up from coming to the fore as leading players. That, perhaps, is the only real bone to pick with the choice of Rooney as captain.
Is Wayne Rooney the right man for the England captaincy? Join the discussion in the comment section below, or on Twitter @TBRFootball.