Euro 2016: Wayne Rooney in relaxed mood as England talisman

England captain Wayne Rooney during a training session.
England captain Wayne Rooney during a training session.
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Wayne Rooney is England’s talisman and record goalscorer but will not repeat the mistakes of the past by shouldering too much of the burden at Euro 2016.

No longer the lung-busting, unfettered teenage striker that lit up Euro 2004, the 30-year-old approaches his sixth major tournament wearing the captain’s armband and charged with leading the nation to glory.

This is the first time Rooney has skippered his country into a tournament but has grown used to bearing the weight of a nation’s expectation, although it was the self-inflicted pressure that proved a millstone around his neck.

“I have put too much pressure on myself and not done as well and as much as I have wanted to,” Rooney said, speaking on the eve of the Group B clash with Russia.

“I am going to enjoy it and hopefully the whole teams enjoys it. Hopefully we give good performances.

“There has been a lot of expectation and pressure on me in the past and I have probably put that on myself as well.

“We now have a lot of match winners in the squad I am not putting myself under enormous pressure like I have done in previous tournaments.”

The pressure on Rooney to perform has altered somewhat over the past 12 years, with the expectation of performances akin to Euro 2004 replaced by questions over his suitability for the starting line-up.

How best to utilise the 30-year-old skipper in France remains a key question, especially having impressed in midfield for Manchester United, and his form came under the microscope at the pre-match press conference.

A Russian journalist put it to Rooney at Friday’s pre-match press conference at the imposing Stade Velodrome that he is “not the same player he was”, suggesting this was a widely held opinion within his country – up to and including the national side.

“Everyone who watches football is entitled to opinions,” he responded. “I know the qualities I have and to be honest I don’t need to sit here and defend myself.

“I’ve played this game for a lot of years. I’m aware that my game has changed slightly over the years and in my opinion it has changed for the better.

“I never said I’ve changed my position; I’ve changed my game slightly.

“I’ve seen players and played with players who have changed what they did and become better players. That’s natural. I’ve played in midfield for the last few months at United, and it’s a natural way in football. It happens.

“I feel with my football intelligence, I can play there and further my career there as well.

“The opinions which matter to me are those of my coaches and my team-mates.”

The comments about his form did not fluster Rooney – “I listen to my coaches and my team mates and to myself I know what is best for me,” he later added – and is channelling his energy into helping England impress.

Comfortably the most experienced member of the squad, the 111-cap skipper believes this “disciplined, focused and exciting” side can threaten for glory over the next month.

“We’ll find out over the next few weeks,” he said, when asked if England’s inexperienced group are ready to step up. We’ve got a very talented squad who are capable of big things, but tournament football is different.

“I think it’s a big challenge for us as squad but we’re hoping and we believe we can do well.”

Manager Roy Hodgson, who has yet to reveal his starting line-up to his players, is hoping England can enjoy a long run in the tournament, but was erring on the side of caution when asked how far he felt they could go.

He said: “We want to go as far as we possibly can and we’ll work very hard to play well enough to get as far as we can.

“But you never know what’s going to happen in a football match.

“Each game has it’s own history, you don’t know which opponents you are going to come up against, you never know what fates will be for you, so we’re trying to be ready for everything and we’re trying to stay in this competition for as long as possible.”

Hodgson has chosen the youngest England squad for a major tournament for 58 years, with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, 18, and 20-year-old Dele Alli of Tottenham the youngest members.

But 68-year-old Hodgson does not think this influx of youth will count against England.

He said: “We’ve got qualities, there’s no doubt about that.

“Obviously the fact that we are so relatively inexperienced in terms of age and caps, that can’t possibly be seen as an advantage per se, but, having said that, the lack of experience we have in the team is counteracted in some way by the youth, by the energy, by the enthusiasm.”