If anyone still felt Gareth Southgate was going to be a mere place-holder as England manager, or the company-man conservative choice, his approach to Wayne Rooney and the captaincy should banish that.
The 46-year-old did not just leave the country’s record goalscorer out of his squad for next week's friendly away to Germany and home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, but refused to offer much in the way of conciliatory words about what could be done to get back in, while pointedly highlighting the need to look to the future by stating “the need for others to step forward”. Southgate also downplayed the much-vaunted importance of the captaincy.
Rooney’s omission is all the more pointed because England are missing the injured Harry Kane and, although the Manchester United star has been struggling for fitness himself, Southgate confirmed it was his lack of playing time in the Premier League that had influenced the decision.
Rooney’s future at Old Trafford under Jose Mourinho is increasingly doubtful and, having turned down a move to the Chinese Super League at the end of February, he is now increasingly expected to leave at the end of the season. Southgate’s decision will likely further influence that, since Rooney is known to greatly want to sign off his England career with the 2018 World Cup.
The manager also indicated how the United player is mainly considered a playmaker, but that he couldn’t be picked there right now ahead of either Dele Alli or Adam Lallana given their form. It is further proof that Southgate will genuinely break from old traditions, and not be guided by past reputation.
“We have to look at Wayne as a number 10, which is his predominant role,” Southgate said. “In the last two games we’ve played Dele there, we’ve played Adam Lallana there. Both are playing very well, scoring and assisting for their clubs. Ross Barkley has been playing very well for his club. So there’s competition. I can’t dress that up any other way.
“Wayne is not ruled out for the weekend. But there is also a need for others to step forward. We have this thing about ‘an England captain’, but really the captain is the person who is captain in the next game.”
It is becoming increasingly clear Southgate will no longer indulge those not getting regular football just because they are big names, as he wants to play a more modern style of football.
“The physical part of how we play is quite crucial. If I look towards longer-term tournaments, being physically able to play games in a short period of time is going to be a critical factor.
“We want to press, I want a team with a lot of energy, so if you are a bit short of match fitness with your club, to make that jump internationally is going to be a tough call because generally [international level] takes more energy. The week can take more out of you. If you’re not getting those minutes regularly for your club it’s harder to hit that level.”
For all the debate about whether Southgate was a company man in being selected to succeed Sam Allardyce, he is showing an admirable willingness to move the English side away from some of the old traditions that have weighed them down and only added to pressure in the past. There is a freshness about what he's doing and how he's explaining it, and it could well bring a freshness to the team.