England v Spain: Wayne Rooney sits it out as Gareth Southgate shares the burden

England's Wayne Rooney will pass the captain's armband to Jordan Henderson for tonight's friendly with Wembley (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
England's Wayne Rooney will pass the captain's armband to Jordan Henderson for tonight's friendly with Wembley (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire).
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Wayne Rooney will be watching from the sidelines when England line up against Spain at Wembley tonight, a decision interim manager Gareth Southgate would have made regardless of fitness.

Rooney sat out training yesterday with a minor injury, alongside left-back Ryan Bertrand, but Southgate had already made up his mind to start without his most decorated player.

For the second time in four games at the helm Southgate has chosen not to select the national captain and record goalscorer, having made the bold call to drop the 31-year-old for last month’s World Cup qualifying draw in Slovenia.

Taking Rooney out of the starting XI is hardly unprecedented in a friendly match, but Southgate’s insistence that he is taking decisions he deems to be in England’s long-term interests, rather than his own prospects of being named permanent manager, cannot be coincidental.

Whether he no longer sees Rooney as an essential first-team pick, or simply wants the team to get used to playing without a man who has already telegraphed his retirement in 2018, is unclear.

What is known is that Jordan Henderson will inherit the armband, as he did in Ljubljana, for the match.

After confirming the Manchester United star would be assessed by medical staff prior to the game, Southgate said: “I wouldn’t start Wayne in this game anyway, so we’ll decide which route to go.

“At times too much of that responsibility has laid with Wayne and we need to share that. There are leaders already and other potential leaders who I think can step forward.

“And once you have a team full of those players then we’ll have a lot of success.”

While Southgate’s agreed tenure expires at full-time tonight, the odds are shortening on him staying on.

The team’s comfortable standing in World Cup qualifying, allied to the feelgood factor of Friday’s 3-0 win over old rivals Scotland, have given him a firm claim to the job.

He steadfastly refuses to discuss his own candidacy, but admits that his mindset since picking up the baton from Sam Allardyce has been to plan for the future.

Rather than shore up his position with safe decisions he has shown flashes of courage, not least in his treatment of Rooney but also in the progressive style he attempted to impose on Friday.