Wayne Rooney did not attend a meeting of England players yesterday in which manager Gareth Southgate laid out his ambitious vision of eventually turning them into world champions.
Rooney, along with nine other players left out of Southgate’s 25-man squad, who are either injured or dropped, was invited by the England manager for a key welcome meeting at the get-together at St George’s Park but declined the offer.
The squad fly out to Germany today for the friendly in Dortmund tomorrow before returning for the World Cup qualifier at home to Lithuania on Sunday.
Instead of attending the meeting Rooney had treatment on his knee injury, which has ruled him out of Manchester United’s recent matches, back his club.
Although it is obviously Rooney’s prerogative to undergo rehabilitation – and he will argue he needs to put his recovery first – it still comes as something of a surprise that a player of his status did not attend as Southgate made his first address to the squad since being appointed manager permanently. Rooney’s injury has not been deemed serious.
Southgate certainly expected Rooney, whose future with England is in serious doubt, to be there having revealed there would be a team meeting when he announced his squad last Thursday. “We’re going to have a meeting with all the players about what we feel the next 18 months will look like. He [Rooney] will be there,” he said.
Only, in fact, Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland, who is still recovering from the ankle he fractured last March while on England duty, was at the morning meeting during which Southgate showed the players a video presentation of England’s highs and lows in recent years – including his own penalty miss in Euro 96 and the debacle against Iceland in France last summer.
Southgate is also believed to have laid out how he expects the players to behave while on international duty and how he will treat them.
One of those new to Southgate’s squad, James Ward-Prowse, who has stepped up from the under-21s, gave an insight into what the players were told.
“And you know, we want to establish ourselves as a top team in the world. So it is all about plugging away at those goals and making sure that what we do now stands us in good stead for when we reach major tournaments… we want to be the best in the world. If you want to win major tournaments, then you’ve got to become that sort of team.“It was a very powerful message,” the midfielder said. “It is one that the Under-21s have received before... the ambitions that he sees for us.
“In every department – the medical side of it, technical and tactical, the operations and the way we things work – we all want to be the best and make sure we give ourselves a chance to succeed.”
Striker Jamie Vardy said there were “highlights and clips from the past” of previous England performances, adding: “We want to be keep progressing and we want to end the long wait that has been going for a trophy.”
Fellow striker Jermain Defoe, who has earned a recall after almost four years out of the squad, said the meeting was about “preparing for the future, having that bigger picture, the ultimate goal is to become world champions and you look at the world ranking and you want to try to improve, step by step”.
Defoe also spoke about his own future and admitted that he would probably have to leave Sunderland if they were relegated from the Premier League if he wanted to remain in the England squad. The 34-year-old said: “Obviously you have to be realistic and to get into any squad it is based on merit and you need to be playing at the top level.
“When I went to Toronto [in Major League Soccer in early 2014] I missed out on going to the World Cup and it was a hard call to take. I would say I probably need to be playing in the Premier League but we will see what happens.”