Roy Hodgson is delighted with both Wayne Rooney’s midfield displays and how the England captain is confounding the doubters at Euro 2016.
No longer the exciting, unfettered striker that burst onto the international scene, much of the focus ahead of the tournament was how best to utilise the 30-year-old’s talents.
Rooney ended the season in Manchester United’s midfield and was unsuccessfully trialled as a deep-lying forward with Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane splitting either side in the final warm-up friendly against Portugal
That ineffectiveness saw questions over his place grow, but Hodgson’s decision this week to deploy the country’s all-time top scorer in midfield for the first time on the international scene has paid dividends.
Rooney’s game intelligence, vision and passing range saw him impress in the 1-1 draw against Russia and Thursday’s Group B clash with Wales, when the captain’s experience helped England secure a dramatic 2-1 comeback win.
“The importance of Wayne Rooney (against Wales) is not only in his offensive qualities and it’s nice to have a player like him in your team in midfield because he’s still a goalscorer,” Hodgson said.
“When chances come his way, he was a bit unlucky to get a shot blocked in the second half after some good footwork. But we’re happy with the composure he brings to the team, we’re happy with the calmness at times when it gets a bit frantic when you’re chasing equalisers and a winner.
“His long cross-field passes have always been a feature of his game, even when he played at centre forward. He dropped deep and had the ability to play those passes.
“And I think, in particular, having survived some doubts about him in the build-up to this tournament and the build-up to my selection of the 23, I’m so pleased for him that he’s shown everyone he’s still a very, very good player.”
While Rooney is in his thirties and perhaps more effective in midfield, the catalyst to Hodgson’s decision was arguably the new-found attacking strength in depth at his disposal.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana started as the front three in Lens and were replaced by Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford as England pushed for the win they edged in extra-time. Sturridge’s close-range finish sent those in white into raptures at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, coming on the back of Vardy’s instinctive finish shortly after his half-time introduction.
“He obviously has a lot of confidence,” Hodgson said of Premier League winner Vardy.
“Harry was looking a bit tired, I thought so it was great to have someone like Jamie Vardy to step into his shoes.
“And also good, in my opinion, that we had players like Marcus Rashford and, in particular, Daniel Sturridge to come onto the field and also give us something different.