Euro 2012: Hodgson ready to release Rooney from his shackles
England's talisman is itching to get back on the pitch against Ukraine, says Dominic Fifield
Instinct suggested the haircut was a giveaway. When Wayne Rooney marched out for training in Nowa Huta last week, a bag of balls flung over his left shoulder, the savagery of the short back and sides, clipped the previous evening, felt like a statement.
Cooped up in Krakow, a two-match ban anchoring his mood, boredom must have taken over. How else to explain a crew cut so severe on a man who had spent a reported £30,000 (€37,000) on a hair transplant last year?
It transpired, of course, that a few of the England party had indulged in trims, a local barber having set up his stall in Ashley Young's room at the Stary Hotel, even if the assumption that Rooney has been attempting to occupy his mind any way he can over the last 12 days still stands.
The implications of his petulant kick out at the Montenegro defender Miodrag Dzudovic during last October's final qualifying fixture will only have properly sunk in since he arrived to stew on the periphery in Poland.
The 26-year-old does not do life on the fringe.
The management have done their utmost to make him feel involved. He has been integral to the team's attacking drills in training, and Roy Hodgson has volunteered his name in virtually all his press briefings since the team arrived to the extent that he has felt fixated on the world-class absentee in his selection.
Rooney, for his part, has flung himself into training with little fuss, conscious that he has to hit the ground running against Ukraine on Tuesday, and offered advice and pointers to the youngsters who have been filling the void he created.
He has effectively been low maintenance among a group of "good tourists", a squad member trying to forget he has not actually been able to take part. But, beneath the surface, no one is fooled.
"He's been really itching to get out there," said Steven Gerrard. "You know what he's like; he's been kicking a ball around in the dressing room and can't wait to get out there. You could see in his face how much he's been disappointed to miss the two games. Hopefully, we'll benefit from that frustration."
It is here where England have to be careful.
Rooney is more mature now than in his three previous tournaments, but he will charge out at the Donbass Arena this week acutely aware he has little reason to have cherished those previous major finals. Admittedly, Euro 2004 had been his breakthrough, his goals against the Swiss briefly establishing him as the youngest ever scorer at the Euros. Yet those performances in the group represented the high point.
He limped away from Portugal with a fractured foot and a tone of discord had been set.
The last two World Cups have been marked by exasperation. The build-up to Germany in 2006 had revolved around sessions in oxygen tanks as he attempted to recover from another broken metatarsal and, while he featured in four of England's five games, he was patently unfit.
Sven-Goran Eriksson appeared confused as to how best to utilise his most talented attacker but Rooney, essentially, could not deal with being off the pace.
The stamp on Ricardo Carvalho in the quarter-final exit to Portugal rather summed up his scowling mood. It was an eruption of his dismay, a temper tantrum because games were simply passing him by. His prescribed script had been torn up.
There were similarities in South Africa. The most prolific campaign of the forward's career had been stunted by an ankle ligament injury sustained in a Champions League quarter-final defeat at Bayern Munich at the end of March, damage aggravated by a premature return for the second leg.
He travelled to the Highveld with Fabio Capello's squad striving for form but he would not score in the 10 games for club and country after the set-back in the Allianz Arena.
He was the only England player to state publicly that boredom was an issue at the Royal Bafokeng Sports complex, his mood apparently surly off the pitch and his displays bereft of sparkle on it. It was all instantly forgettable.
Yet memories of the forward skulking from the turf in Cape Town after the miserable goalless group game against Algeria do linger, Rooney reacting to the chants of disgust from disgruntled English fans all around by shouting into a television camera: "Nice to see your own fans booing you. That's what loyal support is."
He was as frustrated as everyone present. His nation had waited eagerly and expectantly for the team's talisman to make his mark.
When Rooney and England fizzled out so miserably, with even basic ball control sometimes escaping him against Algeria, it was easy to feel betrayed.
In that context, he will be hoping his moment has now come. Roy Hodgson has claimed the striker has been anything but a caged animal, clawing at Euro 2012 from the stands, but Rooney would not be Rooney without an element of raw emotion propelling his game.
He has risen in expectation and slumped in disappointment as England scored or shipped in the games so far, but he has always looked uncomfortable on the outside looking in.
He needs to be integral, inspiring this team, and the expiry of his ban will feel like a release.
England must harness his talent and ensure over-eagerness does not take over, but they can unleash him with relish from now on in. It is time to make amends.
Sunday Indo Sport