Wayne Rooney will lead England out into a half-full Wembley stadium for Wednesday evening’s friendly against Norway wearing the armband for the first time as permanent captain and intent upon convincing a sceptical public that the national side can thrive following their traumatic World Cup campaign in Brazil.
The Manchester United striker, by 68 caps the most experienced outfield player in Roy Hodgson’s team, remains convinced he can still fulfil an ambition to claim silverware with England and will attempt to start the process of re-engaging with a support left disaffected by the side’s worst performance at a World Cup. The home team will seek to demonstrate evidence of promise and progress against Norway before travelling to Switzerland for Monday’s awkward Euro 2016 qualifier, with Rooney eager to take on the added responsibility demanded by the captaincy.
The Football Association expects a crowd of around 40,000 for the game against Norway, ranked 53 in the world and in a similar state of transition to the hosts, with captain and manager acknowledging that the fans’ faith must be restored after the summer’s setbacks in Manaus, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte. “The World Cup didn’t go as well as we wanted and there’s obviously a backlash from that, but the crowd will still be great considering that disappointment,” said Rooney. “We wanted to do better in Brazil. We didn’t. We’re all still devastated but now we have to put the summer behind us and move on.
“Hopefully we can repay them with some good performances over the next two years, and exciting attractive football to qualify for Euro 2016. That’s the aim. This is a young squad but, apart from John Stones, all of those starting this game were at the World Cup and felt that disappointment. We’d gone into the tournament with high hopes and were expecting better than we produced but we’re going to continue on the road along which we’ve started. We knew it would be tough but we have young players coming into the squad and it’s exciting.
“I look at my career and judge it as how successful we are as a team. I’ve always said I don’t want to finish with England having not won anything. I’ve always wanted to win a trophy with my country, and if I can lead us to do that, that’ll be the pinnacle of my career. That will be very difficult, yes, but I really do think it’s achievable. Look at the players we’ve got. They’re exciting players. They have to do what they do for their clubs with England and we have to bring that together. Of course it’s very difficult, it is for any country, but that has to be our aim. It’s pointless not having that as your aim or your desire.”
Hodgson will hand Stones a first start for his country at right-back, with Phil Jones partnering Gary Cahill at centre-half and Jack Wilshere paired with Jordan Henderson in central midfield. Danny Welbeck, Arsenal’s £16m deadline day signing from Manchester United, rolled an ankle towards the end of the training session at London Colney on Tuesday and is unlikely to feature. The uncapped Newcastle United midfielder Jack Colback is unavailable against Norway as he recovers from a knock suffered in his club’s 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace. The team that start tonight are, injuries permitting, also expected to begin the match in Basel.
This will be the third time that Rooney has led out his country but the first as official captain with the United forward – who has also taken up the armband for his club this term – having apparently learned from players such as Gary Neville, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard and intent upon setting the right example to those younger members of the squad.
The 28-year-old refused to rise to comments made by the Norway centre-half Vegard Forren, once of Southampton, who told TV2.no: “Rooney looks a bit chubby.” Forren failed to make a first-team appearance at St Mary’s, with the club unconvinced by his levels of fitness during his brief stay in England before selling him back to Molde.
Yet Rooney conceded there would be even greater scrutiny on him from now on in as captain of club and country. “I’m sure that will go up a notch,” he said. “I’ve had to deal with a lot in my career, and I’m used to a lot of things, so I’m ready for that. I’m ready for that responsibility. It’s my time. I’ve played a lot of games for United and England, and I’m ready to accept that responsibility and ready to lead both teams to success.
“I hope that it makes me a better player. I’ve always played my game, been vocal, demanded a lot from myself and been harsh on myself, and I’m harsh on my team-mates and have demanded a lot of them too.
“But now there is that added responsibility. It’s a great honour to captain my country, something I’m extremely proud of. I want to be a successful captain and for this team to be successful. This game is the start of a new chapter.”