I’ve never played for England. Judging by my performances between the sticks at Gateshead Power League on a Sunday evening, I probably never will. If Jordan Pickford is Gareth Southgate’s undisputed number one, I’m probably his highly-disputed number 198,612. Perhaps even that is optimistic.
In direct contrast, Wayne Rooney has played for England – 120 times to be exact. He did pretty well for the Three Lions too, scoring 53 goals to become the most prolific man to have ever pulled on a jersey for the national team.
You would assume, therefore, given his vast experience, that Wayne’s ability to determine what makes for a successful England side would be much, much more comprehensive than mine. Or yours. Or just about anybody’s, for that matter.
And yet, to see his preferred starting XI for Tuesday’s Euro 2020 clash against Germany, you’d have to wonder if that is the case.
The Derby County manager’s hypothetical selection, as told to the Sunday Times, is almost bafflingly conservative. There’s no Phil Foden, no Jack Grealish, no Mason Mount, with Rooney instead advocating for a glob of defensively-minded, sensibly-inclined work horses in the centre of the park.
Between them, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, and Jordan Henderson are three of the finest midfield talents in the Premier League, but to paraphrase that highly-quoted naan scene from Peep Show: “Three holding midfielders, Wayne? Three? That’s insane.”
If you thought people were livid over Gareth Southgate’s use of a double pivot, just wait until they catch wind of Rooney’s patented “triple” version. That’d be more pivots than a Russian ballerina with a fidget-spinner. More than Ross Geller trying to get a sofa up a flight of stairs. If England have been opting for a belt and braces approach up until this point, their all-time leading goalscorer is now campaigning for belt, braces, drawstring, and a healthy dollop of No More Nails around the circumference of the waistband.
And while on the face of it, it does make sense to try and stifle the German midfield, there are a couple of holes in Rooney’s logic.
It’s almost an inevitability that Joachim Low’s men will retain more of the ball – after all, this is a side that averaged over 60% possession in a group that contained the likes of France and Portugal.
The question therefore becomes a matter of where you would rather engage with them. Do you sit back and let them besiege the box in the hope that you can withstand the pressure and maybe hit them on the break, or do you set out on the front foot and try to take the game to them higher up the pitch?
Naming three players of Rice, Phillips, and Henderson's ilk makes sense in terms of breaking up play, but it also gives you very little opportunity to do much else.
And that bleeds into the second flaw in Rooney’s blueprint. Already this tournament, Harry Kane has cut an isolated figure, either wandering around like a hermit up front or dropping deep in search of scraps to feed off like a polar bear venturing into a village on the southern reaches of the Yukon – far from home and conspicuously out of place.
Take away his link from midfield, whether that be Mount, Grealish, or whoever, and you’re only going to worsen the problem. The skipper will starve.
You would think that Rooney of all people would recognise the need for a cohesive channel of creativity into the final third, but instead he seems to have abandoned all of his attacking sensibilities in favour of a yellow-bellied brand of doomsday preparation. It’s a wonder that he didn’t name 70 cans of tinned produce and a water filtration kit at the heart of defence.
Clearly, some element of caution is advised against a side of Germany’s quality, but if England just curl up in a ball, arms over their head, playing possum and waiting for a beating, make no mistake that their old rivals will be more than obliged to dole one out.