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A sticky return awaits Rooney: Jagielka

DO international team-mates have to like each other? That was the intriguing question raised after Phil Jagielka's admission that he has little time for his embattled England counterpart Wayne Rooney.

The Everton centre back's no-nonsense defending has made quite an impression over the past week and he appears to be equally uncompromising off the pitch as well.

Rooney's marital strife has earned him considerable sympathy from many of his England team-mates over the past few days, but not Jagielka.

As someone whose formative influence as a young player was the straight-talking Neil Warnock at Sheffield United, it should come as little surprise that the Mancunian is not one for dishing out platitudes.

Jagielka was merely giving a straight answer to a straight question, but by distancing himself from Rooney, he may have inadvertently reopened some old concerns regarding the unity of the squad.

There has been no recorded incident of animosity at club level between the two of them, so the only conclusion to draw is that Jagielka has seen something in Rooney on international duty that he does not like.

He would not be the only one. Rooney's demeanour during the World Cup did not go down well with everyone in the England camp, with various reports of players and coaching staff taking exception to behaviour they regarded as that of a prima donna.

Sources in the camp have reported that Rooney spent a considerable amount of time hanging around with John Terry and Ashley Cole, neither of whom is universally popular, and this week Steven Gerrard admitted that he had no idea as to his team-mate's mental state and would not presume to ask.

Is Rooney, who was once the life and soul of the dressing room, turning into a man apart?

"It's not for me to comment on his situation, I'm not exactly best of friends with Wayne," Jagielka said yesterday. "Obviously I've not really been hanging around with him, but he seems his normal self.

"I don't really have an in-depth view of how he has been feeling. I'm sure Wayne can deal with it, he is a tough lad and he'll let his football do the talking.

"It was always going to be a hard night for Wayne against Switzerland. He has done what he is put in the team for. He created some chances as well, but he was there, the right man at the right time, and slotted in the opener."

After a hard night in Basle, Jagielka is predicting an even more difficult afternoon for Rooney when he returns to Goodison Park on Saturday.

The Manchester United striker will get no sympathy from his England team-mate, however. Jagielka is planning to join in with some of the abuse he is expected to receive from Everton fans.

"It should be amusing on Saturday," Jagielka said. "There's a good chance he'll get slaughtered. He normally gets quite a bit of stick up on Merseyside anyway. I can't see that changing. I'll be giving him a little bit as well if he plays on Saturday.

"I'm not going to say I've come out on top before or he'll score a hat-trick. It's always a tough battle, he's obviously a good player and you always have to concentrate. I hope the fans don't go too far.

"I like playing against good players and Wayne is definitely a good player. It's always interesting playing against people who you have just been away with in the week. No doubt I'll give him a couple of bits of banter if he plays."

Given his habit of thriving under pressure, such provocation is likely to backfire, but after running the Goodison gauntlet, Rooney may want to ask himself why it is not just his wife who is giving him the cold shoulder.

┬ęThe Times, London


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