England manager Roy Hodgson says he judges striker on recent commitment and not on old transgressions
Wayne Rooney claims he has grown up and matured, and Roy Hodgson is prepared to believe him. The England manager was delighted with the way Rooney led the side against San Marino at Wembley, and though Steven Gerrard will be back as captain for the game in Poland on Tuesday the Manchester United striker can now regard himself as his deputy.
"Wayne was my vice-captain during the Euros, that was always clear, at least it was from the moment he started playing again," Hodgson said. "I know Frank Lampard is coming back into contention and he has captained the team but I always had it in my mind that Wayne would be the player I'd turn to if Steven Gerrard was unavailable.
"It's something he's very proud of, something he really wants to do, he does take playing for England unbelievably seriously and the good thing for us is that we are now seeing the best of Wayne Rooney. In earlier games since I took over, for various reasons, maybe he wasn't at his best. I've got to hope now that he stays at this level, stays fit and healthy, and continues to do what he's doing for Manchester United and England."
There is no official position of vice-captain, though Hodgson feels England need a player of experience and proven ability to turn to when necessary, a player respected by the rest of the team who is confident of keeping his place in the side. "My idea of a vice-captain is the best person for the job when the captain cannot be there," Hodgson said, perhaps mindful of the fact that Gerrard misses his share of games through injury as well as suspension. "Wayne is always going to be a contender for that."
It is exactly a year since Rooney needlessly earned a suspension that almost put him out of the European Championship by earning dismissal for kicking out at an opponent in Montenegro, yet the player now says he has grown up and calmed down, and is more in control of his temper. Hodgson is not about to suggest otherwise. "If you are asking about maturity you are asking me to take on board previous games and situations, things that happened before I became England manager," he said diplomatically. "I don't like to talk about Rooney and England before I became involved in May. I'm not naive, I am aware that various things have happened over the years, but I don't want to dwell too much on that. I only want to judge him on what I have seen since I began working with him.
"When he first came back, during the Euros, he was not as sharp as he is now, and I think Wayne himself would be the first to admit it. All the time I have been with him since, in terms of his commitment and his desire, his wanting to do the job, he's the same reliable player every time. So I will continue to judge our relationship since May, there's no need for me to be looking back over four or five years before I arrived."
Friday's victory over the lowest-ranked side in European football meant Hodgson now has 10 England games under his belt, and has still to suffer a defeat in normal time. "Results so far have been satisfying," he said. "I don't really make constant appraisals of how I'm doing, there are plenty of other people doing that. I just try and get on with the job and make sure the players are prepared for the games. I will be making a few changes for Poland, we have several players to come back into the side."
Poland away represents a much tougher challenge than San Marino, and a good result could leave England in charge of the group following Friday's other results, though after 10 games Hodgson knows that every game brings its own pressures. "At this level of football I'd like to see a non-pressure game," he said. "Even against San Marino there were 85,000 people there [at Wembley] to see us play, all wanting to be entertained, all wanting to see some good football. I think we managed that, at least we didn't just win and have people shaking their heads saying they didn't enjoy that game at all. I thought we were good value, entertainment wise.
"Five goals is plenty in my book. We were still playing the same way at the end as we were at the beginning and I thought that was encouraging. I should think one or two of those San Marino fellows won't be doing too much walking around for the next couple of days. They will be lying on a bed somewhere."
Though resigned to the fact that the visitors would only attempt to stifle England and stay in their own half most of the time to defend, Hodgson saw plenty of positives. "Those types of game can become real damp squibs, without much football to talk about, but we produced some good passing and movement and lots of skilful moves for the crowd to enjoy," he said. "Five goals was scant reward for the amount of pressure we had and the chances we created, but that is what San Marino are all about. We should give them a little credit because several of the blocks and last-ditch tackles they made were really fantastic efforts.
"At least half of the England team against San Marino could have played for the Under-21s, especially when Jonjo Shelvey came on, and I think that is encouraging. I am also encouraged when I watch Arsenal and see their two Arsenal full-backs are doing extremely well, [Jack] Wilshere is back playing some football now and I hear Chris Smalling is back in training, so at the moment I see no reason not to be optimistic about the future."