South­gate re­veals Rooney’s farewell match has been a long-term plan

Western Morning News - - Football - BY DE­CLAN WAR­RING­TON

Gareth South­gate has de­fended the in­clu­sion of Wayne Rooney in the Eng­land squad for the forth­com­ing fix­tures against the United States and Croa­tia, re­veal­ing he could even fea­ture as cap­tain in a trib­ute that has been dis­cussed for over a year.

Rooney re­tired from in­ter­na­tional duty in Au­gust, 2017, af­ter 119 caps and a record 53 goals, and his Eng­land ca­reer is set to be hon­oured by a fi­nal cap against the States at Wem­b­ley next Thurs­day with a sub­sti­tute ap­pear­ance.

The Eng­land man­ager re­mains adamant that the oc­ca­sion will not de­value the shirt and also de­scribed as “strange” the di­vi­sive de­bate that has sur­rounded Rooney’s in­volve­ment, which the for­ward felt would not be ap­pro­pri­ate in the friendly against Nige­ria on the eve of this year’s World Cup.

“Those dis­cus­sions started over 12 months ago. I was quite happy for the trib­ute to be be­fore the World Cup but Wayne didn’t want to de­tract from the team at that time, which ev­ery­one re­spected,” said South­gate. “That’s why it was put back.

“Now we have the op­por­tu­nity at Wem­b­ley to pay that trib­ute. I’m still able to look to the fu­ture with the squad we’ve picked, but also I’ve spo­ken a lot to the play­ers about the shirt, the his­tory of the short, hon­our­ing for­mer play­ers.

“The play­ers would re­spect Wayne’s con­tri­bu­tion de­serves the best pos­si­ble send-off. I un­der­stand that has caused a lot of de­bate but it’s a small way of ap­pre­ci­at­ing what he has given to his coun­try.

“We’re a strange coun­try in that we be­moan the fact that we haven’t achieved as much as we’d like, and then we have a player who should be held in the high­est re­gard and we’re spend­ing a lot of time justi- fy­ing giv­ing him that trib­ute. I’m look­ing for­ward to work­ing with him and giv­ing him the send-off he de­serves, which isn’t al­ways pos­si­ble.

“We can as­sess, once ev­ery­thing’s fin­ished, whether that was the right thing to do and whether we’d do it again,” South­gate added. “Over a pe­riod I’ve tried to ap­proach things dif­fer­ently, and some of those de­ci­sions are a bit risky; some have paid off, some won’t. I’m com­pletely com­fort­able with the sit­u­a­tion.”

The 33-year-old Rooney had also been Eng­land cap­tain, but in his re­tire­ment South­gate’s youth­ful team cre­ated a new iden­tity with Harry Kane as their new leader.

Dis­miss­ing sug­ges­tions that Rooney would be handed his long-time num­ber 10 shirt, South­gate re­gard­less re­vealed he would have “no is­sue” if he again wore the cap­tain’s arm­band, and his be­lief that the na­tional team’s set-up has too of­ten over­looked great for­mer play­ers.

“The last game he played, when he came on, Jor­dan Hen­der­son ran over and gave him the arm­band as soon as he ran on the pitch,” he said. “That would de­pend on the cir­cum­stances and who’s out there, but I’ve no is­sue with that at all.

“The value of caps is very dif­fi­cult to be pre­cise on. You can come on with two min­utes to go be­cause you need a change; I’ve played when we’ve changed the whole team at half-time.

“This fix­ture is an op­por­tu­nity to learn about some new play­ers; we then have the [UEFA Na­tions League] game with Croa­tia [at Wem­b­ley on Novem­ber 18] which is im­por­tant to us, and I want to pro­tect that squad as much as pos­si­ble in the first game.

“There seems to be a gen­eral feel­ing that the team from 1966 maybe wasn’t recog­nised as might as they much have been, for cer­tain pe­ri­ods. We’ve tried to in­volve for­mer play­ers as much as pos­si­ble.

“If I’m a cur­rent player, the way for­mer play­ers are treated is very im­por­tant to me, be­cause you can see what the fu­ture holds for you.”

Nam­ing a 28-strong squad, South­gate also handed a first call-up to AFC Bournemouth’s in-form striker Cal­lum Wil­son, a re­call to Ever­ton de­fender Michael Keane, and re­tained Borus­sia Dort­mund for­ward Jadon San­cho.

Wayne Rooney in pos­ses­sion for DC United against Van­cou­ver White­caps dur­ing his Ma­jor League Soc­cer de­but in JulyPA­TRICK MCDER­MOTT/GETTY IM­AGES

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