England’s captain and all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney has been dropped to the bench for the World Cup qualifier away to Slovenia on Tuesday, interim manager Gareth Southgate said.
Manchester United star Rooney dropped back to play as a deep-lying midfielder in England’s 2-0 win over Malta at Wembley on Saturday but was booed by some sections of the home support during a lacklustre display.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson will lead the side out in Ljubljana as England look to maintain their perfect start to qualifying, with Tottenham Hotspur’s Eric Dier – a specialist defensive midfielder – starting instead of Rooney.
“It’s very straight forward,” Southgate told reporters in the Slovenian capital on Monday as he explained why Rooney – sitting next to him at a press conference – had been left out.
“We have looked at the way Slovenia play and I knew in my mind the profile of the midfield I wanted to play in this game.
“In no way is it a reflection of Wayne’s performance on Saturday,” former England defender Southgate added, after wielding the axe following just one game in charge.
“He had a lot of the ball, played with great tactical discipline. It’s not an easy decision to take because of the respect I have for him as the captain of this team.”
Rooney, 30, best known as a forward but now increasingly deployed in midfield by England, has faced growing calls to be benched for club and country.
He admitted it hurt to be dropped but said he would fight for his England place.
“I think of course you want to play. I understand and respect the manager’s decision. I will support the players 100 percent and try to help them get three points. I will be ready to come off the bench if needed,” he said.
“I show great pride in playing for my country whether that’s from the start or the bench,” added Rooney, also on the bench for United’s last three matches.
“It’s football. A time comes when you are not the first name on the team sheet. As far as I’m concerned, all I can do is keep working hard.”
As for being jeered by England fans at Wembley, Rooney added: “To be honest I wasn’t aware of it. I think football nowadays sometimes that’s part of the game but I wasn’t aware of it on the pitch so I have nothing to say on it.
“I think people are entitled to their opinions but I have said many times the ones I listen to are coaches, teammates and those close to me… it’s not something I’m too fussed about.”
Southgate, on the eve of the second of his initial four-game stint as manager following Sam Allardyce’s dramatic exit in the wake of a newspaper sting, said Rooney “is still captain of this team while I’m in charge”.
But it is Henderson who will skipper the side on Tuesday and Rooney said: “I think Jordan is a fantastic leader. He has taken a difficult job from Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and grown into the position. He has great leadership qualities and he deserves his chance.”
Southgate acknowledged that there were some England fans who would be pleased to see Rooney dropped.
“On a human level it’s a very difficult decision because I don’t like some people getting an element of satisfaction that he’s not in the team,” said the man who effectively has a four-game audition to make the England job his fulltime.
“I am probably more annoyed on that than he is because he has had to deal with that throughout his career.”