England manager Gareth Southgate has told Wayne Rooney the door is not closed on an international comeback but left no doubt about the size of the challenge facing the former captain.
Rooney has scored more goals for England than anyone, with 53, and is the nation’s most capped outfield player on 119 appearances.
But that has not protected him from Southgate’s axe. Having left the 31-year-old out of March’s games against Germany and Lithuania citing a lack of playing time at Manchester United, Southgate was more stark about the reasons for his omission from a 25-man squad to take on Scotland and France next month.
Rooney has enjoyed more regular starts for the Red Devils in recent weeks but the England boss is clear that there are currently better options to choose from in both the number 10 and centre-forward berths.
“We have a lot of players playing exceptionally well in the area of the pitch that Wayne plays,” Southgate told thefa.com.
“I said last time (in March) that he was a bit short of matches – he’s had some matches now but we’ve got players that have done really, really well for us in Adam Lallana and Dele Alli.
“We’ve got Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane coming back and Jermain Defoe who did really well for us last time while Jamie Vardy’s been in excellent form in the second half of the season.
“I can’t dress it up any other way. Other players are in really good form and deserve to keep their place.”
Southgate was careful to stress he was not bundling the decorated veteran into the wilderness, less than 24 hours after he made a cameo in United’s Europa League victory over Ajax.
“I’ve showed that, by selecting Jermain Defoe at 34, if players are playing well and the moment’s right then we will involve them in the squad.
“You never write off a player of Wayne’s quality and I’m sure that, next season, he’ll be back to playing. He’s finished the season a bit better and I’m sure he’ll take that into next year.”