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Will The National Team’s Obsession With Wayne Rooney Ever Cease?

The saga of the reportedly unhappy Wayne Rooney, even more banal than it was when he was last unhappy at Manchester United back in 2011, is set to this week take another turn as he prepares to play for England in the friendly against Scotland. In contrast to the normal avoid country, play for club route that so many players adhere to when it comes to the annual unnecessary pre-season international week, Rooney looks set to disobey Manchester United and turn out for his country.

His off season at Manchester United has been dominated by talk of the player’s discontent and the injuries that have kept him out of all of United’s pre-season games. David Moyes, who has had his inaugural summer as manager at Old Trafford occupied by the tiresome questioning over the future of his striker, expected him to return from a hamstring injury to play in a friendly against Stockholm, only for Rooney to pull out. A shoulder injury picked up in a private game with Real Betis was the club party-line, but it only served to intensify speculation that Rooney is off, with Chelsea waiting to offer him salvation.

Moyes has not been able to pick Rooney for a single season of pre-season football yet England have welcomed the troubled striker with open arms. 24 hours after his club declared him not fit enough to take to the field in their Community Shield win over Wigan, England manager Roy Hodgson was declaring him fit and ready to run out on the same Wembley pitch to win his 84th cap against Scotland on Wednesday night. It was a view that also appeared to overlook the notorious fitness issues that have hampered Rooney’s returns from pre-season due to his liability to put on weight during the summer months.

Hodgson has claimed that Rooney has “been fit for several days now and has trained very hard” and that “there is no doubt in my mind that he is not suffering any physical injury”. Manchester United, who have seen Wayne Rooney train on his own whilst the rest of the squad have carried on with the preparations of their title defence, will probably disagree with the portrayal of such a bright picture given their own inability to get Rooney onto a pitch to make an informed judgement into his fitness.

Perhaps most disconcerting of the England manager’s statements on Rooney however, came the declaration that the striker would be considered for selection if he is not playing regularly.

“I’m not prepared to make any statements to suggest if he is not playing he cannot be considered for England” he said, “he will always be considered for England whilst he is physically fit because he is one of our best players”.

It was Hodgson who selected Rooney to play the full 90 minutes in both of England’s season-ending friendlies last summer despite not playing a minute of competitive football for just under a month in advance of the laboured draws with Ireland and Brazil.

Rooney’s excellent goal in the Maracana was suggestive of the quality he brings to the England team, but it is a relationship that has repeatedly been strained in the past. Since explosively emerging onto the top level at Euro 2004, Rooney faced questions over his fitness at both the 2006 and the 2010 World Cups whilst Hodgson saw no issue with disrupting the team that had shown fluency and cohesion in the first two group games of Euro 2012 to immediately bring Rooney back from his suspension. The result, a disjointed, sloppy performance against Ukraine which was overshadowed by his goal, justifying his selection for the quarter final against Italy in which he cut an isolated figure on the forward line. Such was the criticism of Rooney’s below-par return that captain Steven Gerrard was forced to defend his striker.

But still, the message from Hodgson is clear. If Rooney is fit, he plays for England, regardless of whether he is up to the required fitness or not. Fabio Capello, who endured both the exceptional and frustrating sides of the Manchester United striker during his time in charge, responded to Rooney’s claim that life was better under Hodgson than the formalist Italian by running the verdict that the striker “only plays well in Manchester”. It may have been extreme, reactionary verbatim, but it hinted at the troubles England face in getting Rooney to reproduce the same form that he has produced regularly in trophy-laden years for his club.

Many will argue that has been a result of the intense media pressure bestowed on him that has usually forced the striker to compromise his fitness to appear at major tournaments, often coming to the detriment of the team. It is a view that Hodgson, with his latest opinions on the striker, has appeared to subscribe to in that as long as the England team selection falls under his command, Rooney will be involved just as long as he is able to run and kick a football. The 27 year old is no doubt a precious talent, the 5th highest goalscorer of all-time for his country, but he remains the embodiment of the fascination the nation holds on a big name.

After the friendly with Scotland is negotiated, Hodgson will then set about forming a team ready for the tricky finale to the World Cup qualification campaign and with his commitment to his main striker appearing unequivocal, Rooney is likely to be a part of it. Will Rooney be playing regularly for his club? Will Hodgson try out alternatives just in case he is struggling with injury or fitness? The worry is that, to the England manager, the answer to both of those questions is “no”. Rooney’s time with the national side is in its tenth year but not one lesson from his enigmatic career has seemingly been learned. The misguided faith is still with the problematic Wayne Rooney.

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