Gareth Southgate insists Wayne Rooney‘s England swansong will not have a negative impact on the next generation – either on or off the pitch.
England’s all-time leading goalscorer will be honoured in next Thursday’s friendly meeting with the United States, with the match now officially known as the Wayne Rooney Foundation International.
Rooney, 33, will receive his 120th cap despite having not featured for the Three Lions in almost two years – although Southgate confirmed the former captain will not start the match nor wear the number 10 jersey.
He will also not be considered for selection for the Nations League meeting with Croatia three days later.
The decision to mark Rooney’s contribution to the national team in such a way has split opinion, with some questioning whether indulging in such a move will come at the detriment of other, up-and-coming players such as Callum Wilson – the Bournemouth striker receiving his first senior call-up for the United States and Croatia games.
But Southgate – who revealed he has not spoken to Rooney since the announcement – feels having the former Manchester United man on the training ground next week and in the squad for the United States friendly can only help the current crop and show them how England treat their greatest talents.
“It’s a shame because you want it to be a fitting tribute to an outstanding player who I think has often been undervalued in terms of how well he played for England,” Southgate said of the criticism of the Football Association’s gesture.
“That’s a disappointment. Hopefully by the time we get to the game, and him being with us next week, the focus will be on ‘actually, let’s think about what he did and how well he played, and there’s an opportunity here to thank him for that’. Any opportunity for us to honour a player we will hugely respect.
“I think the team totally respect what he did and I think it is important they respect what the players did in the past.
“We talk to them a lot about that they have the shirt now but it is not their shirt, great players have worn it before them and great players will wear it after them.
“That lineage and heritage of the shirt and the team is important to me because I think whether you join a club or (play for) your country you need to know the history of that shirt and the importance of it – then you are not playing for the name on the back but for the crest on the front.”
Southgate knocked down suggestions Rooney would play for the final moments in a match now named in honour of his charity – and intends to include the DC United forward in training sessions leading up to the game.
“I don’t want to give an exact minute because if I don’t get it right…there will be a bookmaker running a book on it,” he said.
“I think it should be appropriate that people are not heading for the tubes before he comes on and also we have got out of the game what we wanted and not taking someone off too early.
“We will look at all the players we want to look at. The football decisions are my decisions. There’s players who have either been with us who I feel need to play to make sure they feel valued.
“There are young players we want to see from the start – that has to be the start point. And then we are able to acknowledge Wayne’s contribution after that.
“We’ve got to get the part of the game we need. But we are able to facilitate both. With England there are many objectives we are trying to achieve.”
Asked if it would be a strange sight to see a man who retired from international football training with the current players at St George’s Park, Southgate replied: “But he is not a duck egg, is he?
“He is playing at a pretty decent level in the American league. I have joined in on training sessions so they will be thinking ‘we are one up from where we were last month, when the gaffer joined’.
“The fact is, given where a lot of our players are physically, and the games we have on Sunday, we are not going to have everyone training.”
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