Gareth Southgate has defended the inclusion of Wayne Rooney in the England squad for the coming fixtures with USA and Croatia, revealing he could even feature as captain in a tribute that has been discussed for over a year.
Rooney retired from international duty in August 2017 after 119 caps and a record 53 goals, and his England career is set to be honoured by a final, further cap against the USA at Wembley next Thursday with a substitute appearance.
The England manager remains adamant that the occasion will not devalue the shirt and also described as “strange” the divisive debate that has surrounded Rooney’s involvement, which the forward felt would not be appropriate in the friendly against Nigeria on the eve of the World Cup.
“Those discussions started over 12 months ago; I was quite happy for the tribute to be before the World Cup but Wayne didn’t want to detract from the team at that time, which everyone respected,” said Southgate.
“That’s why it was put back.
“Now we have the opportunity at Wembley to pay that tribute. I’m still able to look to the future with the squad we’ve picked, but also I’ve spoken a lot to the players about the shirt, the history of the shirt, honouring former players.
“The players would respect Wayne’s contribution deserves the best possible send-off. I understand that’s caused a lot of debate but it’s a small way of appreciating what he’s given to his country.
“We’re a strange country in that we bemoan the fact that we haven’t achieved as much as we’d like, and then we have a player who should be held in the highest regard and we’re spending a lot of time justifying giving him that tribute.
“I’m looking forward to working with him and giving him the send-off he deserves, which isn’t always possible.
“We can assess, once everything’s finished, whether that was the right thing to do and whether we’d do it again. Over a period I’ve tried to approach things differently, and some of those decisions are a bit risky; some have paid off, some won’t. I’m completely comfortable with the situation.”
The 33-year-old Rooney had also been England captain, but in his retirement Southgate’s youthful team created a new identity with Harry Kane as its new leader.
Dismissing suggestions Rooney would be handed his long-time number-10 shirt, Southgate regardless revealed he would have “no issue” if he again wore the captain’s armband, and his belief that the national team’s setup has too often overlooked great former players.
“The last game he played, when he came on, Jordan Henderson ran over and gave him the armband as soon as he ran on the pitch,” he said. “That would depend on the circumstances and who’s out there, but I’ve no issue with that at all.
“The value of caps is very difficult to be precise on. You can come on with two minutes to go because you need a change; I’ve played when we’ve changed the whole team at half-time. This fixture is an opportunity to learn about some new players; we then have the game with Croatia which is important to us and I want to protect that squad as much as possible in the first game.
“There seems to be a general feeling that the team from ’66 maybe wasn’t recognised as might as they much have been, for certain periods. We’ve tried to involve former players as much as possible.
“If I’m a current player, the way former players are treated is very important to me, because you can see what the future holds for you.”
Wayne Rooney is expected to make a late substitute appearance in the England friendly named in honour of his charity, Press Association Sport understands.
The decision to award Rooney a 120th cap in the November 15 international against the United States, in appreciation of his commitment to the Three Lions, has split opinion.
The former England captain has not represented his country for almost two years but the game at Wembley has been branded the Wayne Rooney Foundation International, with the football Association helping to promote his charity.
It is believed that Rooney, 33, is not due to start the game, nor will he be given his usual number 10 shirt for the occasion – with his appearance on the bench also meaning it is unlikely he will wear the captain’s armband on his return.
The FA announced on Tuesday that none of the gate receipts will be donated to Rooney’s charity but that supporters will be given the option to donate when they purchase tickets for next Thursday’s game.
There will also be silent auctions in the hospitality areas and a text-to-donate number will be advertised throughout the 90 minutes, with the FA also promoting awareness of the causes supported by Rooney’s foundation.
Rooney’s controversial comeback aside – there are plenty of other selection issues facing manager Gareth Southgate.
While the DC United forward will play some part against the USA, Rooney will not be considered for selection for the Nations League clash against Croatia three days later.
Following the 3-2 win in Seville last month, Southgate’s side must now wait on the outcome of the clash between Group 4 rivals Spain and Croatia to discover what is riding on their final fixture in the inaugural competition – with qualification to the finals or relegation to League B both still possible.
Southgate is likely to stick with the core of the squad which achieved a draw in Croatia and then a memorable victory over Spain.
Luke Shaw and Danny Welbeck will hope to win call-ups despite having to withdraw from the previous squad through injury.
Tottenham left-back Danny Rose also pulled out with a groin injury but has not featured since, so Leicester’s Ben Chilwell should retain his place in the side after impressing in the back-to-back October internationals.
.@WayneRooney will make his 120th and final England appearance on Nov. 15 as the Three Lions take on the #USMNT at Wembley Stadium, with the match benefitting @FoundationWR. #DCU https://t.co/gwvze2qDz7— D.C. United (@dcunited) November 4, 2018
The main bone of contention, once again for Southgate, will be how many younger players are called into the senior set-up.
James Maddison and Mason Mount remain uncapped despite being in the squad last month, while Jadon Sancho became the first player born since 2000 to play for the Three Lions when he came on in Croatia.
The Borussia Dortmund forward is expected to remain in Southgate’s squad given he has gone from strength to strength in recent weeks – hitting four goals in his five games since the last international break.
Another young Englishman impressing in the Bundesliga in Arsenal’s on-loan winger Reiss Nelson.
A friend of Sancho’s, the 18-year-old has scored five times since moving to Hoffenheim for the season and he could land his first senior call-up.
Closer to home, Manchester City prospect Phil Foden continues to attract suitors but his lack of minutes could again see him miss out, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s Europa League hat-trick against BATE Borisov may earn the Chelsea midfielder a recall.
The chances of such young talent making the cut this time around depend largely on whether Dele Alli, Adam Lallana and Jesse Lingard – all injured previously – are deemed fit enough to return to the fold.
Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson is earning plenty of plaudits and only Sergio Aguero, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eden Hazard boast more than the six Premier League goals he has scored this season.
The 26-year-old picked up a solitary under-21 cap in 2014 but could have done enough.
Jordan Pickford will maintain his place as first-choice goalkeeper but Fulham’s Marcus Bettinelli could be dropped having fallen out of favour at struggling Fulham.
Southgate has been consistent in many areas but has called up a host of central defenders in recent squads.
Lewis Dunk, the uncapped Brighton man, was the latest in a long line of call-ups as he replaced the injured James Tarkowski last month.
The likes of Alfie Mawson, Phil Jones and Michael Keane have also featured in the last 12 months without making the squad to face Spain and Croatia.
If Southgate wants to look at more options, Wolves captain Conor Coady and Rob Holding of Arsenal have caught the eye of late.
Ryan Giggs has backed the shock England return of former Manchester United colleague Wayne Rooney by applauding it as an opportunity to recognise an “iconic player”.
The 33-year-old Rooney, now playing in Major League Soccer with DC United, has not played for England in almost two years.
But Rooney will come out of international retirement for the Wembley friendly against the United States on November 15 to make his 120th and final senior appearance in an England shirt.
Rooney’s return has provoked a fierce debate on social media, with some describing it as a fitting send-off for England’s record goalscorer and others saying it cheapens the winning of caps and makes a mockery of international football.
“I understand it. It’s a celebration game against America and I’m all for it,” said Wales manager Giggs, who spent a decade playing alongside Rooney and also later coached him at Old Trafford.
“In football, and in sport in general, people are not recognised or recognised too late. This is a chance for not only a great player, but an iconic player and top goalscorer.
“He’s gone ahead of Gary Lineker and Bobby Charlton, over 50 goals. It gives him a chance to thank the fans for all the support, and the fans to thank him for all the work he’s done over the years.
“I’ve worked with Wayne, played with Wayne, and he doesn’t get recognised for what ability he still has and did have at his peak.
“I understand people have got different opinions but, from knowing Wayne and what he’s done for England, I don’t see any problem with it.”
Rooney turned 33 last month and at the weekend ruled out a loan deal to a Premier League club once the MLS season has concluded – even though David Beckham and Frank Lampard returned to play in Europe during the MLS’ off-season.
Giggs famously played until he was 40 as he went on to make a record 963 appearances for United – and he feels Rooney will want to play for as long as possible.
“It looks like he’s enjoying it out there,” Giggs said.
“I saw one of the goals he made when he chased back, slide tackled and crossed. That is brilliant to see.
“He’ll always score goals because he is a goalscorer. I think he’s got 12 goals in 20 games, and it looks as if he’s really enjoying life in America.
“He’s a footballer who’ll want to play for as long as he can, I know that. But whether the body can take it up to 40 we’ll have to wait and see.”