Nick Westby: Lack of goals should not devalue Rooney’s crucial role for England

How do you solve a problem like Wayne Rooney – if indeed, such a problem exists.

MAIN MAN: England's Wayne Rooney, left, in action against Peru on Friday night.

Critics will argue there is an ongoing concern, that a man who earns £300,000 a week should be dominating games from minute one to 90.

They argue a man who has been the figurehead of England’s attack for a decade, ever since he burst onto the international stage at Euro 2004, should have done more to further the cause of the nation’s hopes in major international tournaments.

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They will point to his goalscoring record in those tournaments and say that for a man of his undoubted talent, high profile and unremitting drive, one goal in the last three is simply not good enough.

Injuries negated his impact in Germany in 2006 and South Africa again four years later, but he still played eight games in those tournaments and failed to score.

At Euro 2012 he netted once in four games.

At 28 he could still be categorised as being in his prime, but it does not require a football pundit with a Sky Pad and a hefty pay cheque to tell you that this is not the same striker who, as an 18-year-old, terrorised Croatia and Switzerland in the group stages in Portugal 10 years ago, scoring four goals and giving a nation hope that they had finally found the man to lead them to an elusive tournament victory.

Therein lies the crux of the Rooney conundrum.

He is not the same striker as he was a decade ago because he is not the same player.

Rooney is no longer an out-and-out striker. He is not a goal-poacher who stands on the shoulder of the last defender, ready to turn at a moment’s chance and bear down on goal.

Rooney will not go into a tournament and win a Golden Boot with a burst of six goals in three games, like Gary Lineker did in 1986.

What he is is an old-fashioned No 10 with an under-appreciated understanding of what the modern forward player employed in the centre of a 3-1 attacking formation has to bring to the table.

Rooney is just as much at home winning the ball in a deep-lying midfield position as he is tearing into the box to get on the end of a cross – both of which, it has to be said, he still does phenomenally well.

He is more often the conjuror of a move, with a neat flick or an incisive pass, than he is the man on the end of it.

Yes, his goals may have dried up, but he still chips in with the odd valuable contribution.

England might not be going to the World Cup had he not headed his nation in front against Poland in that crucial final World Cup qualifier in October.

He also scored against Montenegro four days earlier – again a vital goal.

Rooney has become an issue because people still expect him to go to a World Cup and terrorise defenders with barnstorming runs and a hatful of goals.

His performance last Friday night in a routine warm-up win over Peru came under the microscope because, as per his new role within the team, Rooney did not score or trouble the goalkeeper.

What he did do was attempt to engineer chances, while at the other end, late in the game, he tackled Jean Deza so hard in the right-back position that the young Peruvian striker nearly ended up in the stands with the paper-aeroplane throwing hordes. Rooney was not brilliant against Peru but, then, nobody was.

What exacerbated the debate about his role and value to England’s goalscoring options was manager Roy Hodgson’s irritated reaction when quizzed about Rooney by the Sunday newspaper journalists on Friday night.

“I think it’s a bit sad that the country is so Wayne Rooney-obsessed,” snarled the manager.

“I don’t think Wayne sets himself up to be anything other than a very important member of the squad who tries his best at all times. We work as a team but certainly we don’t have the same obsession with Wayne, or Daniel Sturridge.”

Having attempted to quell the situation, Hodgson then promptly added fuel to the fire by cryptically suggesting Rooney’s place in the starting XI for England’s World Cup opener with Italy in Manaus in 12 days is not assured.

“In the back positions we have a pretty clear idea of what we want,” said Hodgson.

“Once you get past Steven Gerrard in midfield, there are five positions to fill. I think there are plenty of options there and we could do well with a number of those options.”

Hodgson would be a fool not to pick Rooney, either as a strike-partner to Sturridge, behind him in a three-pronged supporting role or even at right-back for the marauding and positionally-unaware Glen Johnson.

Like the critics, Hodgson’s head should not be turned by Rooney’s lack of goals – a laughable stick with which to beat him considering he has 38 in 90 internationals.

Rooney has to play. People just have to accept he is a different beast.

And another thing...

Time to salute a few of Yorkshire’s champions and medallists from around the world this weekend.

Starting at home, Doncaster boxer Jamie McDonnell won a second world title at Wembley Stadium on Saturday night, claiming the WBA bantamweight championship with a 10th-round knock-out of Thailand’s Tabtimdaeng Na Rachawa.

Also in the capital, Alistair Brownlee will have been disappointed with a bronze in the latest triathlon world series event, while in Canada, Harrogate diver Jack Laugher underlined his growing reputation with an individual silver in the 3m springboard and a bronze alongside City of Leeds clubmate Chris Mears in the 3m synchro.

Over in Belgrade, Hebden’s Andrew Triggs Hodge, 35, proved age is no barrier as he stroked the men’s four to a European title while his fellow Olympic champion, Middlesbrough’s Kat Copeland, won a bronze in the lightweight double sculls in her first regatta since London 2012.