Disorder and demons afflict Wayne Rooney on the international stage

The England striker's attempts to be a great player for his country continue to be peppered with problems

Tournaments bring disorder to Wayne Rooney's life. And vice versa. Broken metatarsals, red cards and prolonged listlessness pepper his attempts to be known as a great international footballer. This time he started early, drawing a suspension for the start of Euro 2012 with a cheap kick at a Montenegro defender in a game England were winning when he lost his self‑control.

Rooney's dismissal lacked the ramifications of his sending-off in Gelsenkirchen in 2006. That day he stamped on Ricardo Carvalho's unmentionables in a World Cup quarter-final. Cristiano Ronaldo's wink at the Portugal bench threatened to drive a wedge between the two Manchester United colleagues and became a cause célèbre in deflated, angry England.

This time the national team staggered out of their group on a night of rich entertainment, marvellous Montenegrin defiance and joyous pitch invasions by the home supporters. For 18 minutes they held on without their best player. But there is no escaping the self-defeating pointlessness of Rooney's kick at Miodrag Dzudovic, a day after the England striker's father was arrested on suspicion of involvement in an alleged spot‑fixing scam in a Scottish fixture.

Before Wolfgang Stark reached for his red card Rooney's anger had been growing. As England lost control from a 2-0 lead after half an hour their most potent individual grew increasingly stroppy, hunching his shoulders and jerking his arms as each ball went astray and one pass bounced off his feet in a promising forward position.

The catalyst for most of his tantrums is mediocrity in team-mates or sloppiness in his own play. Yet the darkest clouds seemed to have cleared from his mind, with peace returning to his private life and United finding fresh impetus at home. The memory of him shouting obscenities down the mouth of a camera at West Ham had receded. The damage here was both immediate and projected into next summer. Fabio Capello's team for the first Euro 2012 fixture will be a compromise selection while the star sits in his doghouse.

Rooney has not lost the knack of delivering sneaky and meaty challenges for United. He is skilled at getting his retaliation in first. Mostly, though, he no longer risks the wrath of Sir Alex Ferguson with score-settling off the ball. England games have become the stage on which he surrenders to his demons. In the last World Cup, remember, he was listless and blunt; as innocuous on the pitch as he was detached in the camp.

Impending private turmoil is the most likely explanation for his behaviour in South Africa. So people are bound to speculate now about the effect of his father's arrest in relation to an alleged crime that is way too close to home: football, Rooney's escape, his proving ground.

Rain and ridicule marked the end of England's last European Championship qualifying campaign. This one meandered to a small Balkan state where Capello's men escaped the neurosis of Wembley on a night of rain and relief. The dubious first prize is a chance to measure themselves against Spain in a friendly.

So England's players are stuck with Capello for another tournament and Don Fabio himself has a second and final chance to lift the "sick man of Europe" tag from the country who pay him £6m a year on the questionable grounds that no domestic manager is capable of coaching its national team.

The test was biggest for Phil Jones, the 19-year-old centre-half deployed at right-back, and Darren Bent, chosen ahead of Danny Welbeck and Bobby Zamora. Jones was overlooked at centre-back but forced his way into the back four through sheer force of talent, ahead of the two specialist right-backs, Kyle Walker and Micah Richards, who must be thoroughly fed up with Capello's cold-shoulderings.

Is this a new England side? Not really. Since the burlesque of Bloemfontein, Joe Hart has become an automatic choice in goal and Matthew Upson has disappeared. But Glen Johnson, John Terry, Ashley Cole, James Milner, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Rooney and Jermain Defoe (all starters that day) are still on the scene.

Scott Parker, 30, is an old new face, Ashley Young has burst into the picture on the left, Jack Wilshere has brought a flash of Spanish sun and Jones will probably overtake Gary Cahill at centre-back before next summer, with Welbeck and perhaps Tom Cleverley also hunting for caps. Adam Johnson and Stewart Downing are other candidates out wide: one of England's strongest areas after many years of famine.

But it is hardly a revolution – unless, that is, Capello pushes the pace of change in the next eight months. The issue now is whether the balance has tipped in favour of the young and hungry and away from the demoralised and fatalistic.

This final competitive fixture before Euro 2012 became harder and more stressful with each phase of play. The best teams control games, the less good just hope to survive them. It helps when the most gifted player puts the team first – and stays on the pitch.

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