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Wayne Rooney: The Keystone or Sacrificial Lamb?

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England must devise their best formation for the crucial World Cup group stage. Should that system include Wayne Rooney?

Michael Regan

Wayne Rooney has been an ever present figure in the England setup for what seems like an age. Is it time he was sacrificed for the common good?

Firstly, it is imperative to note that I believe Wayne Rooney to be a terrific footballer, exceptional in fact and a man who is recognised by most as England's best player. But should your best player command a starting berth when the team may profit otherwise? Those who have watched Rooney over the years will no doubt be aware that his best position is up front, playing just off a lively goal scoring striker. But is two players up front a luxury that England can afford against quality opposition?

In my view England's biggest problem will be building a side around a player who is not an out and out centre forward. In an ideal world Rooney would be played with a partner for whom he can create and feed off. But England's current striking crop are far from ideal. The side is crying out for a finisher in the mould of a player like Robin Van Persie, or the lively Alan Shearer of bygone days. Most would likely conform to the view that 4-4-2 would be a dangerous formation to play against Italy who pride themselves on an excellent midfield and Uruguay who will look to move the ball quickly in challenging conditions to tire England quickly. Such a formation would likely result in an exhausted central midfield pairing who would struggle for possession, whilst the two up top are left isolated and frustrated that the ball is not reaching them. 4-3-3 has been Hodgson's formation of choice against 'lower' class opposition although this presents its own problems. The central striker is required to hold the ball up whilst waiting for the two wingers to get involved in the attack and the midfield area runs the risk of being overrun if the wingers don't do their jobs effectively. 4-5-1 Presents similar problems to 4-3-3 for the striker, and once again this would not ideally play to Rooney's strengths.(I can tell all the Football Manager enthusiasts will enjoy picking my analysis apart!)

So how can Wayne Rooney fit into all this formation malarkey? Well here the problem begins to emerge...None of the above systems will suit both England and Rooney. This introduces the notion of whether a 'target man' type player is worth considering. Many of England's most recently capped forwards are rather lightweight and would likely struggle up front alone, (ie Sturridge, Defoe, Welbeck, Rodriguez) so is it worth turning to an Andy Carroll, Ricky Lambert (I know Lambert has played recently), or Peter Crouch for our decisive group games? The purists amongst you will likely find it a disgrace that I might suggest playing one of these 'beasts' ahead of the delicious Rooney. The facts remain however, that somebody better acquitted to holding up the ball and introducing our wingers into the attack might do a more convincing job in challenging conditions against potentially 'better' sides than ourselves. When you factor in the lack of a winter break in England, the notion of a target man seems more appealing.

With the heat and struggle for possessing also potentially comes the darker side of Wayne Rooney. You don't need me to remind you of the stupid things Wayne has done previously... (ok then I'll name a couple: red card v Portugal in World Cup 2006, and the stupid kick out against Montenegro that meant he missed the start of Euro 2012). After the most recent of those incidents Rooney claimed that such stupidity was behind him, although a kick out at a Cardiff City player from which he was lucky not to see red this season might suggest otherwise. As the formation problems detail, Rooney may be left isolated and frustrated in Brazil, which makes for a bad combination when it comes to his temperament and discipline. England simply cannot suffer another daft sending off at/impacting a major tournament.

Nobody wants to see the best player left out of a team, but cramming quality players into the same side has arguably been a downfall of England in the past, with the 'Golden Generation' potentially failing to deliver for this reason. It would take a brave manager to drop Wayne for those crucial games vs Italy and Uruguay, but nobody ever achieved greatness without taking risks. If points are achieved against those two, then England can begin thinking about progression in the tournament. I certainly hope that Roy takes a 'big man' to Brazil as an option.

Anyhow, if all else fails we could play Daniel Sturridge up front vs Uruguay and hope Suarez forgets that he isn't playing for Liverpool!