English Premier League

England caretaker manager Gareth Southgate drops Wayne Rooney midfield hint

The 30-year-old has started Manchester United’s last three games on the bench, but is in contention to feature in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier at home to Malta

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 1:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 October, 2016, 9:13pm

England caretaker manager Gareth Southgate hinted that he will ask captain Wayne Rooney to continue playing in midfield for his country.

Rooney, 30, has started Manchester United’s last three games on the bench amid an ongoing debate about the best place for him to play as his physical powers wane.

Both club manager Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce, Southgate’s short-lived predecessor, announced plans to deploy him as a number 10, although they then used him in more withdrawn midfield roles.

“I don’t want to go against Jose, but I think Wayne can play any number of different positions,” said Southgate, who has kept faith with Rooney as captain.

“The only thing I would say is I go back to one of the things we work on with the team: in and out of possession, tactical discipline, positional discipline.

“So whatever position you play, it is clear to the players that they understand that fully.”

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Rooney, England’s record scorer with 53 goals and most-capped outfield player with 116 caps, played in midfield under Roy Hodgson during England’s ill-fated Euro 2016 campaign.

Mourinho subsequently vowed Rooney would “never” play for him in midfield, but he has featured there at times for United this season.

Allardyce also expressed an intention to use Rooney further forward, but the former Everton player conspicuously took up deep-lying positions during last month’s 1-0 win in Slovakia.

Citing Rooney’s vast international experience, Allardyce said “it’s not for me to say where he’s going to play”.

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Southgate conceded Rooney’s lack of playing time with United was “not ideal” and refused to confirm if he will start Saturday’s World Cup qualifier at home to Malta.

“I’m not prepared to give my team to the opposition, but I’m clear in my mind how that will play out,” said Southgate, previously England’s Under-21s coach.

Southgate, 46, is perhaps best known for squandering the penalty that allowed Germany to progress to the final of Euro 96 at the expense of hosts England.

He was appointed interim England manager last week following the departure of Allardyce, who was brought down by a newspaper sting and left after just 67 days in charge.

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After Hodgson’s exit, Southgate had said he did not feel ready for the responsibility of the England manager’s job.

While he refuses to look beyond his initial four-match remit, which also includes qualifiers against Slovenia and Scotland and a friendly with Spain, he insisted he was up to the task.

“I am always comparing myself against the highest possible person in our field. This situation is different,” Southgate said.

“This is where circumstance throws up a situation where you have got to assess quickly who is the right person to do this, and who is going to do it well.

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“Do I feel that I am the right person at this moment in time to do this particular role? Yes. Absolutely. Anything else moving forward is something that needs to be considered.”

A stoppage time Adam Lallana goal gave England a last-gasp win away to Slovakia in Allardyce’s one and only game at the helm.

Although Allardyce’s tenure was fleeting, Southgate believes it laid foundations for future success.

“To score that late goal ... I think was a small step, a small brick in the wall of belief of what needs to happen,” said the former Middlesbrough manager.

“We have to build on that. It can’t be the case that we start again. We can’t start again after Roy and start again after Sam. We’ve got to go forward.”