Photograph: Michael Regan/The FA via Getty Images
Wayne Rooney’s international career appears to be drawing to its close after it emerged he had been left out of England’s latest squad despite declaring himself fit and he is no longer seen by Gareth Southgate as the team captain.
Rooney has been omitted from England’s 26-man party for the friendly in Germany on Wednesday, followed by the World Cup qualifier against Lithuania four days later, despite telling Southgate that he is available to play for Manchester United at Middlesbrough on Sunday.
Southgate admitted that Rooney was unhappy about the decision but praised England’s record scorer for the “very mature” way he took the news. Rooney has, in turn, been invited to a squad meeting at St George’s Park on Monday when Southgate, speaking in a way that has become rare for England managers, intends to deliver some “brutal” truths about the diminished state of English football.
He clearly does not intend to sugarcoat his words judging by a long diatribe at his squad announcement in which he described himself as embarrassed by England’s failures – “We’ve won three knockout games in 27 years and the last one was in 2006” – and the man who dropped Rooney in his second game as caretaker manager made it clear the 31-year-old now faces a challenge to get into the squad, never mind the team.
“We have to look at Wayne as a No10, which is his predominant role,” Southgate said. “In the last two games we’ve played Dele Alli there and 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 it up any other way. There are some very good players and it’s a battle to get in this squad.”
Rooney, he said, had been disappointed but understood the reasons. “I don’t think he expects, if he is not playing every week for his club, to be picked in this sort of situation.”
That leaves the question of whether he is still the England captain and Southgate’s verdict is that the role does not exist unless the relevant person is in the team. “We have this thing about ‘an England captain’ but really the captain is the person who is captain in the next game, isn’t it? Or the game on the next day. I always just assume you pick a team for a game and the captain of that game is the captain.”
Rooney’s two and a half years with the captaincy, starting after Steven Gerrard’s international retirement at the end of the 2014 World Cup, appear to be over therefore, unless he can re-establish himself in the team at a time when Southgate believes English football needs a dramatic wake-up call.
His verdict on the state of the national team was as damning as that delivered by any manager in recent memory and was particularly striking bearing in mind these will be his first games since turning his caretaker spell into a full-time role. “There’s a harsh lens needed on some of the things we are doing,” Southgate said.
“We need to look at who the top teams are and how we get to their level. I was in a team that made a semi-final [at Euro 96] and that has happened once since 1990. It’s my job to analyse what hasn’t been right and then show the lads a pathway. They will then decide whether they want to come on it or not. I think we need to be pretty brutal about the way we look at it.”
That will start on Monday, when Southgate has no intention of dressing up how he feels about England’s deterioration and plans to tell his players he has grown weary of empty promises. “One of the things I want to talk about is the fact we always talk about what we’d like to achieve but don’t actually look at the reality of where we are. Whatever we think we are as a nation, we’ve not been delivering. We seem to have won medals in almost every other sport. Ours is the missing piece.
“That drives me on as much as anything: the need to start recognising where we really are and how we bridge the gap. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the profile of our league, yet eight to 10 years ago we were always involved in Champions League semi-finals and finals. That just isn’t the case any more.
“I remember going to the World Cup in Brazil, scouting for the FA, and watching all the montages before games to show the highlights of previous tournaments and it suddenly struck me: ‘We’re not on any, none of our players are on them.’ We think we’re whatever, but I’m looking at the screen and there’s all the Brazilians, the Spaniards, the French, and we’re not there. And I’m almost sinking into my seat because you walk in there thinking you’re part of England, massively proud, but actually on the world stage, we’re not there at the moment. And I think part of trying to affect that is to start saying: ‘Listen, these are the realities.’”
Southgate has recalled Jermain Defoe and called up the Southampton pair James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond as well as two other uncapped players, Michael Keane of Burnley and West Ham United’s Michail Antonio.
Jake Livermore, of West Bromwich Albion, is involved for the first time in almost five years and Southgate has decided to keep faith with Luke Shaw at a time when he is barely figuring for Manchester United. Shaw’s call-up goes against Southgate’s idea to leave out players who are being omitted by their clubs but Danny Rose, England’s first-choice left-back, is one of several absentees through injury and the manager made a personal call to Shaw to discuss the way he has been marginalised at Old Trafford. The call-up, Southgate said, would “hopefully boost how he feels about himself”.
England squad: Goalkeepers: Fraser Forster (Southampton), Joe Hart (Torino, on loan from Man City), Tom Heaton (Burnley).
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Man Utd), Michael Keane (Burnley), Luke Shaw (Man Utd), Chris Smalling (Man Utd), John Stones (Man City), Kyle Walker (Tottenham).
Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Michail Antonio (West Ham), Ross Barkley (Everton), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Man Utd), Jake Livermore (West Brom), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Nathan Redmond (Southampton), Raheem Sterling (Man City), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton).
Strikers: Jermain Defoe (Sunderland), Marcus Rashford (Man Utd), Jamie Vardy (Leicester).