Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has challenged Wayne Rooney to confound the naysayers after damaging, over-the-top criticism during the international break.
In the public eye since bursting onto the scene when a teenager, a lot has changed in that journey from precocious talent to record-breaking 30-year-old captain of club and country.
Despite being the subject of scrutiny for so long, Rooney’s place in the both sides, never mind position, has rarely been so fiercely debated.
The United captain this week said he ignores most of the “rubbish” about him, but Mourinho thinks some of the talk has impacted his form since returning from England’s unconvincing start to life under Sam Allardyce.
Rooney failed to impress in this month’s late 1-0 win against Slovakia, after which Allardyce curiously suggested that he had deferred to his skipper over where he played, even expressing surprise at how deep he dropped.
Questions over his role and capabilities have continued since returning to United, with Mourinho noticing a marked change in a player who retains his trust but is not immune to being dropped against Leicester today or further down the line.
“Honestly, I think there was a Wayne before Slovakia-England and a Wayne after Slovakia-England,” the Red Devils boss said of Rooney, a player he insists has “no privilege” purely because he is captain.
“And I am not blaming Sam, not at all.
“I am blaming the people that after England-Slovakia were, in my opinion, too strong with somebody that is a very important player in the history of English football, is the captain of England, has the record of goals, almost the record of matches.
“I think it was too much, but I still think that, a big boy like he is, he has to face it in a strong way.”
Put to Mourinho that people expect Rooney to be strong enough to deal with, even driven on by it, he added: “That’s what he tries every time. When he is on the pitch, he gives 100 per cent. Always, always.”