Gareth Southgate says Jordan Henderson earned the right to replace Wayne Rooney as England captain after successfully stepping out of Steven Gerrard’s shadow at Anfield.
The interim manager wants Rooney to remain as national skipper and squad figurehead despite dropping him for Tuesday’s game in Slovenia, but it is Henderson who will lead the side out for the first time in Ljubljana.
The 26-year-old took the Liverpool armband from local hero Gerrard when the latter left the club in 2015 and has been impressive in the role.
And that was not lost on Southgate as he chose the midfielder ahead of other candidates such as Joe Hart and Gary Cahill.
“What stood out for me is that he has taken over as captain at a club where he has succeeded one of the most iconic English footballers of all time,” said Southgate.
“That would have been a difficult challenge for him and he has matured from that. He has shown great leadership skills with his club.
“He is used to being captain which is important. He has got a voice and an opinion within this group and he has got his clear ideas of what we need to work on.
“It was not an easy decision because there are other senior players in that dressing room but he has captained a big football club and is used to that responsibility so it is the right decision for me.”
Rooney backs Henderson
Rooney, who volunteered to take the press conference at Southgate’s side despite being excused duty, offered his own tribute to Henderson.
“I think Jordan’s a fantastic leader,” he said.
“He’s taken an incredibly difficult job from Steven Gerrard and he’s really grown into that position. He’s a fantastic player with great leadership qualities.
“He deserves his chance tomorrow night to captain England. I’m sure for him it’s a really proud moment and his family as well.”
The other beneficiary of Rooney’s demotion is Tottenham anchorman Eric Dier.
Dier, who was arguably England’s best performer at Euro 2016, offers greater defensive qualities than Rooney and Southgate explained a simple tactical analysis helped make up his mind.
“I think it’s clear that we’re talking about two different profiles of player – different attributes, different skills,” he said.
“That’s entirely the basis of the decision, we’re away from home, it’s a different tactical challenge…so as the coach you’ve got to look at what the right set up is for that game.
“We have looked at how Slovenia play and when I looked at that midway through last week I knew in my mind the profile of midfield that we need for this game.
“In no way is it a reflection of Wayne’s performance (against Malta) on Saturday. We were very pleased with what he did on Saturday. (He) played with great tactical discipline, saw a lot of the ball and dictated the game.”
Henderson praises Rooney
Henderson hailed the influence of Rooney on the team, and said the Manchester United man would remain a major influence in the squad regardless of his place on the bench.
Henderson said: “Wayne is very experienced, for me he has been one of the best players in the world for many years and he sets an example to all of us on and off the field. He is someone we all look up to as a captain and a leader for his experience and the type of person that he is.
“He is massive for this team and just because he is not playing tomorrow, it won’t change anything.
“I am sure people will make a big deal of him not starting but, in football, teams change tactically for different opposition and for different reasons.
“As I said, this doesn’t change anything for us as a team in terms of Wayne not starting. He is our captain, he leads by example, and he’ll be ready to come on and make an impact when given the opportunity.”