#360view: Humiliated Rooney continuing to show little fight

James Piercy 10/10/2016
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Recent struggles: Wayne Rooney.

England players often lead a joyless existence while on international duty. What was once a privilege and an honour to represent your country is increasingly an unwanted pressure which runs disproportionate to the national team’s standing in the game.

England are, and have been for many years now, a deeply average side yet premium levels of performance are anticipated. Much of that is to do with the illusionary factor of the Premier League which somehow hoodwinks fans into thinking the brilliance of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and David Silva will translate to the England team.

Instead, it sets an unobtainable bar for a group of players still struggling to come to terms with moving on from the embarrassment of Euro 2016. None more so than Wayne Rooney whose misery in the white shirt is beginning to resemble some kind of purgatory.

Self-inflicted, admittedly, but such is the torment he’s experiencing, it’s admirable he keeps turning out for the Three Lions. But turn out is all he seems to do. As another vapid display on his 117th appearance for his country saw him booed by sections of the Wembley crowd in 90-minute display as captain where he was also subjected to a year-defining nutmeg.

As the ball broke loose in the middle of the park, Rooney attempted to close down Malta’s Gareth Sciberras but was beaten to the punch by a player three years his senior who flicked it through his legs and continued forward. Against a side ranked No. 176, he looked passive throughout; his passing tentative with an apparent unwillingness to receive the ball when denied obvious space, made worse by midfield colleague Jordan Henderson’s all-action display as he played with the sort of fire and craft once emblematic of Rooney.

Make no mistake, England are carrying Rooney, but as his game visibly deteriorates, people continue to make excuses for him. Former team-mates and ex-pros have realigned their views gradually over the last 2-3 years, with Rooney’s misgivings as a No. 9 first blamed on a lack of service then a realisation the decline of his pace means is more suited to operating as a creative No. 10.

But his inability to affect matches in the position then saw the school of thought morph into the concept of a deeper role where his “football brain” can work more freely.

After a reasonable first-half against a hugely-depleted Russian midfield at Euro 2016 helped support this theory, he was soon shown up by Iceland in a truly horrible display of inactivity and apathy. Yet Jose Mourinho, despite insisting he wouldn’t, persevered with him as a No. 8 and now Gareth Southgate following in the wake of Sam Allardyce.

But despite so many substandard performances, we’re still told he “still has something to offer”. What that is, remains unclear to anyone watching.

Rooney as a midfielder is akin to if Metallica reinvented themselves as a synth-pop band or if Michael Bay decided his true calling in cinema was romantic comedies. His game was blood and thunder, reactionary football and about momentum, charging forward and playing off the cuff. A “street footballer” as his apologists like to remind us. But that Rooney appears to be a slice of nostalgia.

And that in itself makes for a truly sad situation, as a player so personified by a primal rage every time he stepped onto the field is showing little of the sort against the dying of the light.

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Internationals: Payet scores as France beat Bulgaria

Eden Hazard, Kevin Gameiro, Cristiano Ronaldo, Quincy Promes and Romelu Lukaku were among the goals.

France coach Didier Deschamps was pleased with his side's recovery after coming from behind to beat Bulgaria 4-1 in Paris on Friday.

Kevin Gameiro struck twice while Dimitri Payet and Antoine Griezmann also got on the scoresheet as France replied to Mihail Alexandrov's early penalty to secure their first win of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Deschamps told TF1: "We could pick fault with the penalty but they regained control of the match and went in at the break two goals ahead.

"In the second period we were not in trouble and created several more chances. We scored a goal and could have had two more." Belgium moved to the top of Group H after a 4-0 win against Bosnia and Herzegovina in their World Cup qualifier in Brussels. An own goal by Emir Spahic opened the scoring on 26 minutes and Belgium doubled their lead just three minutes later when Eden Hazard got on the end of Dries Mertens' cross. The Euro 2016 quarter-finalists looked much the stronger side throughout the game and Roberto Martinez's men were out of sight on the hour mark. After winning a corner, Toby Alderweireld made it 3-0 as he got on the end of Mertens' corner in the six-yard box. Everton striker Romelu Lukaku scored Belgium's fourth on 79 minutes with a superb strike into the top right corner from outside the box as the home side made it two comfortable wins in a row at the start of qualifying. Quincy Promes scored his first two international goals as Holland overpowered Belarus 4-1 in their World Cup qualifier in Rotterdam. The Spartak Moscow winger struck twice in the first half to put the Dutch in control before Alexei Rios pulled one back in the Group A fixture. But any prospect of a fightback was swiftly extinguished by Davy Klaassen, and Vincent Janssen added a fourth for the hosts. Cristiano Ronaldo scored four World Cup qualifying goals as European champions Portugal humbled nine-man Andorra 6-0 in Aveiro. The captain reached 65 international strikes with a brace in each half, Joao Cancelo and Andre Silva adding the extras against a team which lost Jordi Rubio and Marc Rebes to red cards. Substitute Valentin Stocker scored a late winner as Switzerland beat Hungary 3-2 in Budapest to make it back-to-back qualifying victories. Mikael Lustig's 58th-minute goal settled Sweden's 1-0 victory over Luxembourg, who had Kevin Malget sent off, while Kostas Mitroglou and Petros Mandalos fired Greece to a 2-0 win over Cyprus. Elsewhere, the Faroe Islands claimed a 2-0 victory in Latvia and Estonia ran out 4-0 victors against Gibraltar.

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INTERVIEW: Wenger for England, says Fowler

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Fowler was speaking to us in Abu Dhabi.

Gareth Southgate leads England into their World Cup qualifier against Malta on Saturday as interim manager but former Three Lions striker Robbie Fowler believes Arsene Wenger should be the one to eventually succeed Sam Allardyce.

Speaking at the opening of Liverpool’s new store at Al Wahda mall in Abu Dhabi last week, Fowler said the Arsenal manager would be his first choice for England manager.

“My initial choice is Arsene Wenger. I think he’s a proven manager who brings out the very best in players. He’s been in England for a long time. His record of getting Arsenal in the Champions League is nothing short of phenomenal. He would be my choice,” the former Liverpool star told Sport360.

Despite being criticised for the lack of silverware at Arsenal, Fowler is adamant that the Frenchman would be the ideal man for the job, citing his consistency to deliver Champions League football as a key factor.

“I think he’d be suited to be England manager. They haven’t won the league for a number of years but they consistently finish in the top four and that’s an incredible achievement.”

Another Premier League manager Fowler has been impressed by is the one leading his beloved Liverpool. The former Red has been delighted with the team’s form of late and credits Jurgen Klopp for galvanising the players.

“They’re a joy to to watch at the minute. They’re exciting, everyone’s scoring goals. They’ve had some great results. But I don’t think anyone associated with the club will be getting carried away. We all know there’s a long way to go but it’s exciting times,” he said.

Liverpool have had a number of goal scorers already this season and while acknowledging that fact, Fowler has his hopes pinned on one of the summer signings to take the team to the next level.

“Klopp’s bringing out the very best of the players. They’ve all chipped in with goals. [Philippe] Coutinho’s played well, [Daniel] Sturridge, when he’s played, has been a handful. The standout performer has been [Sadio] Mane. Hopefully, he’ll be the man to take us further up in the league,” added Fowler, who scored 183 goals in 369 games for the Anfield club across his two spells.

Liverpool has secured a Champions League berth just once in the last seven seasons but Fowler is confident that they will achieve that target this time around.

“Liverpool should always have ambitions to finish as high up in the table as possible. We always want to finish in the Champions League places,”said Fowler.

“It hasn’t really happened a few times in the past years for various reasons but I certainly think with the players we’ve got and the manager, we can do it. I’m confident that Liverpool will finish in the top four, anything beyond that would be a massive bonus.”

As far as the race for the Premier League title goes, Fowler believes Manchester City remain firm favourites and the team to beat.

“Manchester City have been the strongest. [Pep] Guardiola is a fantastic manager. But you look at Chelsea under [Antonio] Conte and they’ll be difficult to beat when they settle down,” the 41-year-old said.

“Manchester United have had a little bit of a blip in the last few games but under [Jose] Mourinho, he’ll get them playing well. If anyone finishes above City, they’ll probably win the league.”

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