Southgate defends Rooney ‘reward’
LONDON — England manager Gareth Southgate on Thursday defended his decision to reward Wayne Rooney by fielding the country’s top international scorer in a friendly against Team USA at Wembley next week.
The Football Association announced earlier in the week that Rooney would be awarded his 120th cap as a tribute to his England career, which appeared to have come to an end when he retired from international soccer in August 2017.
The decision has been criticized in the English media, with a number of exciting young prospects needing more game time to be tested at the international level and the Team USA match seen as preparation for what could be a crucial Nations League decider against Croatia four days later.
“I am still able to look to the future in terms of the squad we have picked,” said Southgate.
“But also I have talked a lot to the players about the importance of the shirt, the history of the shirt, honoring the former players, and I believe all of them respect that Wayne’s contribution deserves the best possible sendoff.
“I understand it has caused debate, but for me it is a small way of appreciating what he has given to his country.”
Rooney, 33, scored 53 goals in his previous 119 caps. However, he failed to carry his country to the level of success England enjoyed under Southgate at the World Cup this year by reaching the semifinals.
The former Manchester United captain has starred for DC United since moving to Major League Soccer in June.
Southgate confirmed Rooney wouldn’t start the match or wear the number 10 shirt, but that he could be handed the captain’s armband as a substitute.
“He won’t wear number 10 because he won’t start the game,” said the manager.
“When he came on in his last game, Jordan Henderson ran over and gave him the armband. I guess that it will depend on the circumstances of the game and the players who are out there, but I have no issue with that.”
Meanwhile, Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson was rewarded for his fine start to the campaign with a first England call-up among a bumper 28-man squad named on Thursday.
No English player has scored more than Wilson’s six Premier League goals so far this season.
“He’s a threat in terms of running in behind defenses. He’s been involved with either scoring or assists, with a high number of goals this season, so it’s a good opportunity for us to have a look at him and see how he fits into what we do,” said Southgate.
After beating Spain 3-2 in Seville last month, England could progress to the semifinals of the inaugural Nations League with victory over Croatia if Spain fails to win in Zagreb on Nov 15.