We BEAT Sweden! The defence was ropey and we conceded the very headed goals we planned (and did) score against Sweden. At 1-2 down we were all groaning: “Same old England, here we go again”. Then – incredibly – on came Theo and everything changed. Remember how Sven dragged him along at the last minute, remember the disaster of South Africa for the whole team. Yet yesterday in two touches Theo had transformed the game. Less expectation, less stress, less fear and rigidity in muscles and brain – gooallll!!
But here is my fear – and let me first state my admiration for Wayne Rooney both as a footballer and as a developing human being. This team seems to be finding a balance between the enthusiasm of youth as embodied in Carroll and Welbeck and the experience of John Terry at the other extreme. Now – against Croatia we anticipate the return of the star, the one big star. How can Hodgson fit him in without changing the shape of the team both on the field and psychologically?
I can’t help thinking that perhaps his suspension was in the end a blessing for England. It is popular wisdom that Rooney is central to the England team linking midfield and attack. It is hard to forget his sending off after appearing to stamp on the groin of Ricardo Carvalho and then push Cristiano Ronaldo in 2006.
It is also well known that he has an “anger problem”. In the Montenegro match with England leading and safe for qualification, Rooney lashed out 17 minutes from time in an otherwise unexceptional incident. We need to understand this behaviour as a symptom of something deeper inside. What is the nature of this problem whereby a thoughtless yet deliberate action led to an undermining of England’s chances in the World Cup and in the European Championships?
Anger can be displaced, we have mechanisms whereby we can hold our anger in certain situations but in others the controls let us down. Rooney was only informed that his father and uncle had been arrested after he touched down in Podgorica.
What is he carrying into the match with Croatia? The truth is that watching him on the touchline I imagine in his expression the frustration of not being involved but also a focus and a commitment to the team. It is likely that he will replace Andy Carroll despite that brilliant headed goal. Carroll committed two fouls in the first 90 seconds and it was his offence that led to Sweden’s equaliser. Maybe Carroll is the wild card at this stage of his career whereas Rooney has not been sent off or red carded once for Manchester United the whole season.
I live in hope that we will see the best of Wayne Rooney against Croatia and into the next round. There has been a lot of focus on his past behaviour but it is worth mentioning that Ronaldo’s windup and “the wink” represent a form of angry behaviour. It was designed to get a reaction from a young Rooney and it worked. This was six years ago. I believe Rooney has matured, moved on and that the incident against Montenegro was exceptional. Though Fabio Capello had insisted Rooney was in the right frame of mind to play in Podgorica, he must have been carrying concern and worry about his father’s recent arrest for betting irregularities.
Ronaldo’s windup is what we call “ anger through the back door” ie. getting someone to express our own anger for us. It is a very common in young men between 15-25 and at that age we are also very susceptible to it. Our reactions can become a defense of who we are and we are not resilient enough, particularly when the adrenaline is pumping, to let these things go.
Rooney seems in a better place now to manage his reaction and his emotions. If he can come into the team with focus and humility, if he can control his urge to prove himself, I believe he can shine and England can win again.