Wayne Rooney will continue as England captain after manager Sam Allardyce made the “easy” decision to retain his services.
Rooney, 30, has led his country for the past two years, but after taking over from Roy Hodgson following Euro 2016, Allardyce initially refused to confirm he would keep the armband.
Allardyce also declined to name a skipper in his first squad announcement on Sunday night, adding a minor element of intrigue, but the Manchester United forward always looked the firm favourite.
Official: #ThreeLions manager @OfficialBigSam has confirmed that @WayneRooney is to remain as captain. https://t.co/MA6TdNTUhl
– England (@England) August 29, 2016
Question marks over his place in the team appear to have been answered by a strong start to the season at Old Trafford, where Jose Mourinho has used him as a No. 10, shoring up his position in the international fold ahead of the World Cup qualifier in Slovakia on Sept. 4.
“Wayne has been an excellent captain for England and the manner in which he has fulfilled the role made it an easy decision for me to ask him to continue,” said Allardyce, who informed the players of his decision after the start of a week-long get-together at St George’s Park on Monday.
“Wayne’s record speaks for itself, he is the most senior member of the squad and he is hugely respected by his peers. All of these factors point towards him being the right choice to lead the team. ”
The 61-year-old might also have mentioned the lack of obvious alternatives, with Joe Hart and Chris Smalling currently out-of-favour at their clubs, while the likes of Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier and Harry Kane are still making their way with England.
Rooney might have been criticised for his lax showing in the defeat to Iceland this summer, but Allardyce believes he has broad enough shoulders to deal with the extra spotlight afforded by leading the national team.
“I like an on-and-off-the-field captain if there is one, but if there isn’t one then being an on-the-field captain is the main basis,” he said.
“You would hope the captain would make a decision on the pitch if he felt it needed to [be made]. For me, that’s the captain’s role. It’s a big responsibility at club level and even more so at international level. First and foremost lead by example.
“It’s all about the personality. Can you handle the responsibility of being captain? We’ve seen some fabulous players in cricket who couldn’t handle the captaincy.
“That’s the last thing you want to do, name a captain and they be so uncomfortable with it their performance is diminished. We’ve seen that in cricket a few times.
“I think he [Rooney] has enjoyed the responsibility. Some players don’t want that responsibility.”
Allardyce, much to his chagrin, is often portrayed as a meat-and-potatoes manager, keen on hard-hitting centre-halves and powerful target men.
But Rooney would be gratified to hear his manager’s response when asked who his best captain had been in club football.
“Jay-Jay Okocha,” he replied without hesitation, with the Nigerian playmaker having served with distinction at Bolton.
“On and off the field he was the captain you looked for. He sorted the odd scuffle out in the dressing room, talked to the players about how we had to go out and win, he’d take the manager’s instructions and apply them in the right way.
“Then there was outstanding ability on the field, leading by example and showing everybody he wasn’t a mercenary, which was suggested in the beginning, that he’d only come for the money.
“He became an iconic figure at Bolton Wanderers.”
One player who might find Rooney’s elevation frustrating is Tottenham’s Dele Alli.
The 20-year-old is one of the country’s brightest emerging talents and started three games out of four in the Euros, playing alongside Rooney in a midfield three.
But his favourite position is in the hole behind the striker, the very role Rooney has been enjoying at United.
Presuming Rooney starts, Alli would have to make do with substitute appearances or a more withdrawn position.
“Wayne is playing behind the front man at Manchester United … Dele Alli has started well too, so that makes it a difficult choice,” mused Allardyce.
“We’ll wait and see, but we are looking at balance of positions. We want to have two players in each position and not leave ourselves short. Hopefully we make that selection after this [training camp] and we know the best XI to start with.”