Would Wayne Rooney ever get a send-off for England like the one Germany organised for Lukas Podolski? Wednesday’s friendly in Dortmund was part match, part testimonial and whole tribute to the striker who earned his 130th and final cap, and scored his 49th goal, for his country before retiring from international football.
Podolski is 31 – like Rooney – and no longer part of coach Joachim Löw’s plans. He announced that he was stepping down from playing for Germany after being a peripheral figure at Euro 2016. Rooney is also being phased out, after 119 caps, and it would appear entirely possible that he has already played his last game for England.
Yet Podolski is not in the same class as Rooney and a valid comparison is how the German failed at his country’s biggest club – Bayern Munich – while Rooney has been an undeniable success at England’s – Manchester United – even if he is set to leave this summer.
The question was not something that manager Gareth Southgate wanted to engage with after the 1-0 defeat that, nevertheless, was rich in positives – with a fine debut from Michael Keane, a new formation working with three at the back and a more mature way of dealing with such fixtures. It is about the performance and not the result and Southgate, unlike his predecessors, who feared losing such prestige friendlies, is not afraid to state that.
“I have to have a mentality that the friendlies have to serve a purpose. It would be easy just to view them as games that have to be won, and then you don’t risk, don’t try things and you don’t give people opportunities,” Southgate said. “Would we make all the changes we did in another scenario? In a game like that, that’s the purpose, if you don’t put lads in, you’ll never find out about them. Performances like Michael Keane’s are a real plus, the margins are fine.”
Alleluia to that and also for Southgate’s boldness in making changes to his squad which have involved dealing, head-on, with the Rooney issue. The reasoned argument is that with Adam Lallana and Dele Alli – England’s best two players against Germany – performing so well and with the re-emergence of Ross Barkley, there is no place for Rooney.
Right at the end of Southgate’s post-match briefing, after the last question had been called, there was one final inquiry to deal with, and maybe it was telling that he skirted around the issue. Did Rooney deserve a night like the one enjoyed by Podolski? “Is that the last question?” Southgate said before departing.
Maybe too much can be read into that – Rooney has, after all, signalled his desire to continue playing for England through to the World Cup in Russia next year – but Southgate was clear as to why Germany are more comfortable at delivering such tributes.
“It helps if you have won World Cups and European Championships, doesn’t it?” he said. “I think people [in England] recognise those who have made 100 caps, we have always given presentations for that, and people acknowledge the contribution they’ve made.
“What we haven’t done, which maybe some other countries do, is evenings like tonight. I played in a game in Portugal where Luis Figo had a similar thing, but you can’t always predict when the end is coming for people.”
It would be interesting to discover whether there is an appetite for such tributes when it comes to England players but Southgate is right. Maybe it sits uneasily when it comes to a nation that has so chronically underachieved.
He has dealt with that, basically declaring that England’s football team are the missing link, the runt, when it comes to the country’s sporting success, and that has to change. There also has to be a greater connection between the Football Association, the players and the supporters, although that is a difficult topic after a match in which the England fans let everyone down with their moronic songs.
But, on a broader point, England does not cherish its players in the way that other countries do and that may also play to the “brittleness”, stated by FA chief executive Martin Glenn, they feel wearing the Three Lions shirt.
“We are trying to acknowledge and recognise that, our past, years ago we weren’t even invited back to matches,” Southgate, a former England international himself, said. “That, over the past 10 years, has been different. I did that myself when I wasn’t involved in the game and I know what that meant for my dad to come with me.
“We asked Glenn [Hoddle] to present Michael Keane with his shirt before the game because we want that connection with the past, and for the player to feel that and also recognise that the past is important for us as well.”
Still it remains unlikely that, when the time comes, Rooney will receive the same kind of send-off as Podolski.