Roy Hodgson says it would take an “awful lot” for him to leave Wayne Rooney out of England’s 23-man squad for Euro 2016.
Rooney’s place is being debated like never before, partly sparked by a knee injury towards the end of a tough campaign in which other attackers are impressing.
The fact Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane’s fine form continued in last month’s friendlies against Germany and Holland means the pressure on Rooney has only increased as Euro 2016 edges closer.
The pair are seen to represent positivity and adventure at a time when England’s record goalscorer perhaps represents caution – the kind of prudence Hodgson has often been saddled with, not that he cares one iota.
The Three Lions boss emphasised there are no thoughts “at the moment of jettisoning Wayne Rooney” – and certainly not because some may see him as cautious.
“I think I’ve said now on several occasions that this is a 23-man squad: three goalkeepers and 20 outfield players,” Hodgson said.
“It would take a lot before I say to Wayne Rooney after his captaincy over two years, after 19 games and two defeats, that because I am being pushed to make a brave, bold decision and show what a fantastic, forward-thinking and adventurous coach I am, ‘I am leaving you out the team’. It would take an awful lot.
“But, of course, Wayne Rooney has got to get fit, got to get playing and when Wayne Rooney gets in the squad he has got to get in front of other players again because he would not expect me to just give him a position in the team on sentiment or on his past record or the fact that he’s the captain of the team.
“He will expect me to give him a position in the team because he shows he is better than the others.
“With Jamie Vardy scoring goals and doing well, with Harry Kane scoring goals and doing well, with (Daniel) Sturridge and (Danny) Welbeck now fit again, with (Raheem) Sterling to come back into the team, the competition is a lot fiercer than it was even two years ago.”
Hodgson has repeatedly insisted Rooney is not assured of a starting berth, although looking beyond his most experienced player, top scorer and captain has always looked unlikely.
The England boss has been impressed by the way the 30-year-old has grown into his role as national team skipper – a position he was unable to fulfil over the international break due to injury.
No concerns over Rooney form
Rooney is set to return to the Manchester United line-up over the coming weeks and Hodgson, who has been in regular contact with his captain, has little concern over his fitness or form.
“What he is he is the captain of our team and has been for the last two years and has done extremely well,” he said.
“Most teams, if they are any good as teams, they don’t throw their captain out the first time a young player comes on the team and scores a goal, unless the captain for some reason is playing so badly or doing so badly there is a clear reason for doing so.
“Rooney has never given us any reasons to do that and I expect him to get back to fitness.
“I expect him to start playing well again and I expect him to be on the plane to France, and then I expect him to accept like all the other players in the squad that he will have to play well enough to get into the team.”
Hodgson coy on Drinkwater chances
Hodgson bristled at the suggestion England were too conservative under his tutorship, saying he has “almost reformed a generation of players” and highlighted the players that have come through.
Danny Drinkwater on Tuesday became the latest to make his international breakthrough, the Leicester midfielder named man of the match for his debut in the 2-1 defeat to Holland.
“I thought he took that chance and played well enough for me to keep a very close eye on him in the next six or seven games,” Hodgson said.
“His name will be in the mix for players to make the 23, but the competition in that central area is very, very strong and I am not prepared to say at this moment that because he has done well in the week and done well on Tuesday that he is a definite shoo-in.”