Stage is set for Rooney

WORLD CUP GROUP D:

Stage is set for Rooney

Hodgson, ever the scholar, used the Royal Air Force’s motto ’Per ardua ad astra’ (Through adversity to the stars) to describe his route to the top, and the same applies to Rooney’s potential journey back to the big time.

Until recently Rooney was regarded as the undisputed high-flyer among England’s crop of forwards.

But, the emergence of Daniel Sturridge, and the likes of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, have put Rooney in the shade somewhat.

The critics have come out of the woodwork, including some from unexpected quarters like former team-mate Paul Scholes, who suggested Rooney might be past his peak.

But now Rooney has the perfect chance to end the doubts surrounding him in England’s first Group D match against Italy.

“That (match) will be (the time) for Wayne to show them,” the England manager said when asked about criticism of Rooney.

“The World Cup is a major event, the coverage is quite enormous — all the journalists who are out here, the TV stations, the radio stations, it’s just par for the course that there are going to be lots of opinions.

“A lot of those opinions will be opinions that players may not want to hear. But the good thing is, Wayne Rooney has got a chance.”

Hodgson has looked uneasy recently when handling the topic of Rooney’s supposed dip in form.

The England manager refused to accept one observer’s claim that the England striker is an “exceptional” player.

And interestingly, Hodgson said earlier this week that Rooney had to “persuade” him that he is “good enough to be in the first team”.

For the last two World Cups, Rooney has been England’s go-to man up front, and on both occasions he has failed to deliver.

His record of played eight, scored none, is hardly the record of a top-class striker.

But with the likes of Sterling and Sturridge going into the World Cup on top form, the hope is that there will be less pressure on Rooney’s shoulders this time around.

Hodgson has praised Rooney for saying he intends to “enjoy” the tournament, but the England manager does not want the Manchester United forward to be too laid back come Saturday night.

“I think (his comments) are a sign of maturity,” Hodgson said.

“The word ’enjoy’ is a dangerous word to some extent, you only ever enjoy things that you do well, if things don’t go well or you don’t feel like you’ve realised your full potential as a player, enjoyment is hard to find.”

Rooney ended a four-match scoreless run by finding the net in England’s 2-2 draw against Ecuador last week.

The goal — a tap in from one yard — was not spectacular, but the celebration was.

Rooney upper-cutted the air and bellowed loudly. It looked like a message of defiance to his critics.

Now he hopes he can carry on scoring at the World Cup.

“I hope it can be the catalyst for me,” Rooney said.

“I just want to try and do well. If the way previous years have gone, in terms of scoring bunches... if that happens, then great.

“There have been times where, unfairly, I have been pulled up on it, for not scoring for a few games.

“I remember somebody saying I hadn’t scored for six games and I was literally playing in a deep-lying midfield role for those six games, which seemed a bit unfair. It is something that I have never really quite understood.

“I want to do well. I want to score goals and help England be successful. I know if I have a good tournament, if I play well, then the team will play well.”

England defender Leighton Baines believes Hodgson has managed to create a club-like bond in the squad.

“I don’t think it could have gone much better to be honest,” Baines said. “It’s been really enjoyable, we’ve got some really good work in and spent good time together.

“For the time I’ve been involved with England, this is as good a group as there’s been.”

Midfielder Jordan Henderson says England will be fearless tonight.

“A lot of the younger lads who are new on the scene have no fear,” Henderson said.

“That can only be a plus.”

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