England coach Southgate warns Rooney over 'tactical discipline'
Gareth Southgate has offered a ringing endorsement of Wayne Rooney's suitability for the role of England captain - but warned that every player needs to show "tactical discipline" to remain in the team.
The assessment of England's interim manager runs contrary to that of his predecessor, Sam Allardyce, who suggested that Rooney was entitled to play "wherever he wants" after the World Cup qualification win away to Slovakia last month.
That was Allardyce's only game in charge as he left his post last week, and Southgate has been elevated from England U-21 coach for the next four matches, starting with the qualifier against Malta, at home on Saturday, and Slovenia away next Tuesday.
With the remaining two fixtures in November, the 46-year-old said he had been given what amounted to a "seven-week" audition for the senior role, although the former Middlesbrough manager refused to say whether he wanted to become the next England boss.
Privately, he is understood to want it and he has support from within the Football Association.
Southgate rang Rooney last Thursday to tell him he would continue as captain, then met him in Manchester the following day.
Yesterday, Southgate spoke glowingly of the Manchester United captain as an "outstanding leader" who has "impressively matured into that role" with England.
However, there was a clear warning over what he expects of all players, including Rooney, who has struggled with his club form and been told by Jose Mourinho that he was not a midfielder.
"I don't want to go against Jose but I think Wayne can play any number of different positions," Southgate said. "The only thing I would say: in and out of possession, tactical discipline, positional discipline (is important), whatever position you play. The players must understand that fully."
Asked whether he was concerned Rooney was no longer an automatic starter at United, Southgate said: "With the U-21s, I've had lots of players who aren't playing, but we are looking at what's our best team.
"If they aren't playing, okay that's not ideal. However, is that player still in your best team and is he still one of your high potential players moving forward? The decision with Wayne is who is the best leader for this moment and there's no reason to change that."
Southgate was dealt his first blow yesterday, with Raheem Sterling withdrawing with a minor calf injury. Sterling is expected to be fit for Manchester City's next match, a week on Saturday at home to Everton, but is replaced by Crystal Palace's Andros Townsend. (© Daily Telegraph, London)