Rooney: Steven Gerrard should have been made England captain years ago
Wayne Rooney believes Steven Gerrard should have been honoured with the England captaincy much earlier in his international career.
Gerrard is set to lead his country for the 32nd time in Friday night's World Cup qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley.
It puts him seventh in the all-time list of England captains, just two behind John Terry, who he played under for so long.
The 33-year-old will never get close to the record, jointly-held by Bobby Moore and Billy Wright, who each did the prestigious job on 90 occasions, or even David Beckham, named skipper 59 times.
Yet Rooney feels Gerrard's figure pays scant regard to his abilities as a leader, which he is convinced should have been recognised on a permanent basis far earlier than the weeks prior to Euro 2012, having previously worn the armband on a temporary basis only.
"Steven has been one of the best in the world over the last 15 years," said Rooney.
"We look to him to give us that drive.
"I think he got the captain's armband a bit later than he should have. He should have been named captain earlier.
"He has adapted his game a little bit.
"He is not going forward as much as he used to but he has certainly got the ability to sit a bit deeper and play passes out.
"He is our leader and is going to be a really important player for us."
Rooney believes Gerrard's influence will be equally significant off the field.
For Roy Hodgson's squad contains a large number of younger players, who could easily be overwhelmed at the task facing them, namely collecting victories against Montenegro - something England have not managed in three previous encounters - and Poland to secure a place at next summer's World Cup Finals.
"We will need the experienced players," said Rooney.
"Obviously there are more younger players in the squad than there has ever been.
"The experienced players have been there and done it.
"They can keep that calmness for us.
"It is a tense situation. There are a lot of nerves and sometimes you can hear that through the crowd as well.
"It is going to be really important that our experienced players help us in those games."
During Rooney's decade-long international career, England have only failed to reach a major tournament once, when Steve McClaren was unable to guide his side to Euro 2008.
The last World Cup that did not have an English presence was the 1994 campaign under Graham Taylor.
Rooney understands the criticism that will follow should England not meet their objective over the next week.
"For a country like ours, with the talent we have, it would be a failure not to qualify," he said.
"As players, we will all take the responsibility if we don't get there.
"But we are positive and excited about the games coming up. We have to be confident in ourselves. We believe in ourselves."
That confidence is bolstered by the knowledge that, for once, England are in a far better position fitness wise than their opponents.
Montenegro captain Mirko Vucinic, goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic, centre-back Marko Basa and midfielder Miodrag Pekovic have all been ruled out, while England's only significant absentees are Ashley Cole, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
It means Hodgson is choosing from strength, particularly in the striking department, where both Rooney and Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge in particular have enjoyed stellar starts to the campaign.
"It is great," said Rooney.
"It is probably the best group we have had since I have been in the squad.
"Rickie Lambert is scoring goals for Southampton and has done really well for England. Jermain (Defoe) and I have been around a bit longer and Sturridge and (Danny) Welbeck bring a lot of energy.
"Overall, it is a really good blend."
Rooney and Sturridge have only had half an hour together, against the Republic of Ireland in May, but their recent form suggests they must be given a chance to dismantle what is expected to be a dogged Montenegro defensive effort.
"Daniel has been in tremendous form for Liverpool this season," said Rooney.
"He has scored a lot of goals.
"He has been given a vote of confidence by the manager at Liverpool who has trusted him to play up front.
"He has delivered.
"I am sure if we play together we will try and work together, try and link up and try and score goals between the two of us."