How vital is Wayne Rooney to England?

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Love him or hate him at club level, Wayne Rooney is one of the all-time England greats. The Manchester United star has matured into a top talent on the international stage and recently surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton’s record goals tally of 49 goals for his country.

On his day, Rooney is almost unstoppable and, while he has lost a yard of pace in recent years, he has developed into a fantastic captain and leader – both on and off the field.

And in England’s opening clash with Russia, Roy Hodgson deployed Rooney in a deeper midfield role. The Three Lions captain had played just a handful of matches in that position for United at the end of the campaign but Rooney rolled back the years and produced a Paul Scholes-esque performance. The 30-year-old wasn’t able to make any lung-bursting runs from his deeper role but he was able to dictate the play until he was replaced by Jack Wilshere in the latter stages.

Flawless

While the Three Lions faltered in injury-time, Rooney’s near-flawless display was just one of many positives to take from England’s performance in Saturday’s draw with Russia in Marseille. If nothing else, the United star showed just how important he is and has now almost certainly cemented his place in Hodgson’s starting line-up for the remainder of the competition. After all, England have lacked a controlling presence in midfield for quite some time...

But Hodgson could also choose to deploy Rooney further forward if he absolutely needed to. For example, if England need a vital goal, the 30-year-old is certainly capable of popping up at the crucial moment. Rooney has carried England at times over the years and the United man may need to lift his team this summer. The 1-1 draw in Marseille was hurtful but England cannot afford to dwell on that result for too long – and Rooney knows it.

Vital tie

Now, Rooney and co must look towards their important clash with Wales on Thursday. Chris Coleman’s men will fancy their chances after beating Slovakia 2-1 in their opening clash and Rooney may be tasked with hindering Gareth Bale’s impact on proceedings. Bale was directly involved (either scored or assisted) in 82% of Wales’ goals during the qualifying campaign and the Real Madrid man netted their first in Saturday’s victory. If you stop Bale, you more or less stop Wales.

Rooney won’t specifically asked to man-mark Bale out of the game but the United captain will be wary of his ability to influence a match. The Welshman is one of the only true world class stars in the competition and England’s main man will need to ensure that Bale doesn’t run the show. If Rooney doesn’t track Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, Wales could prosper and enjoy possession in advanced areas against the suspect English defence.

On his day, Rooney is capable of producing memorable moments – whether that’s upfront, in the ‘number 10’ role or in central midfield. The England captain can dictate proceedings against Wales and he is capable of leading the Three Lions to the latter stages of the competition. On current form, Rooney will be crucial to England’s chances of success this summer and the 30-year-old has the temperament to guide Hodgson’s men to glory.

Rooney’s performances aren’t the be all and end all by any stretch of the imagination but his efforts show just how much he is worth to the national team. While he hasn’t enjoyed a particularly successful campaign, Rooney has a unique knack of stepping up when it matters most – just watch how he led United to victory in the FA Cup final. And now, it is time for the whole world to see just how influential he is for England on the big stage...