Friday 23 March 2018

Indulgence of Rooney puts Big Sam in 'Wally with the Brolly' territory

Allardyce feels he needs Rooney. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Allardyce feels he needs Rooney. Photo credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Jason Burt

There is a parallel to be drawn after Wayne Rooney made his 116th appearance for England against Slovakia - and it is with the man whose record he surpassed to become his country's most capped outfield player, David Beckham.

Not that Beckham appeared set to reach that landmark figure. One of the first acts of Steve McClaren when he succeeded Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager after the 2006 World Cup was to leave the captain out of his squad.

"I told David I was looking to change things, looking to go in a different direction, and he wasn't included within that," McClaren declared.

It left Beckham stranded on 94 caps. 'Beckham era over' read the headlines, with McClaren praised for "stamping his own presence on the FA with one simple stroke".

Within a year McClaren was on the ropes and performed an about-turn, bringing back the Beckham era, but England still failed to qualify for Euro 2008, with the manager departing as the 'Wally with the Brolly'.

It was Sam Allardyce, of course, who McClaren beat to the England post a decade ago and he would surely have reflected on the Beckham episode when it came to deciding what to do about Rooney.

Allardyce could easily have said it was time to change things and he would have been lauded as bold and refreshing after the Euro 2016 debacle But he did not.

He looked at the squad and reached the conclusion that it was a collection of players with a lack of natural leaders. So, for now, Allardyce feels he needs Rooney. He has to utilise him as a leader, though that is where the danger also lies and where the manager can be accused of not getting the balance right, of coming across as indulgent or even in awe.

Take the manager's gushing post-match press conference after Sunday's squeaky 1-0 victory, a game in which Rooney acted more like player-manager than captain.

"Wayne played where he wanted to," Allardyce said when questioned about Rooney's deep midfield role.

It got worse. "I think (Rooney) holds a lot more experience at international football than I do," Allardyce said. "So, when he's using his experience and playing as a team member, it's not for me to say where he's going to play."

That was a mistake. It did not come across well.

They were not the kind of remarks that would have passed the lips of Rooney's club manager, Jose Mourinho, who on taking over at United made it clear that he did not see Rooney as a midfielder.

Given that Allardyce has suggested he would be using players in their club positions and directly related this to Rooney, with his first game he has reneged on this commitment.

In fairness, Allardyce got a bit carried away straight after the game. When he had gathered his thoughts and spoke to the written press, he was more measured about Rooney's role and even implied he had not fulfilled it properly.

But, still, it is confusing. Maybe there is some reverse psychology going on to ensure that Rooney is a strong ally while he needs him.

Maybe, therefore, this is as much a game of realpolitik as of football. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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