Interim England manager Gareth Southgate says captain Wayne Rooney must demonstrate positional discipline during his tenure.
Under-21 coach Southgate has taken control of the senior team following the departure after just one match in charge of Sam Allardyce, who was recorded by undercover reporters discussing the circumvention of Football Association transfer regulations.
Veteran Rooney has been assured by Southgate he will retain the armband despite losing his place in the Manchester United first team.
The 30-year-old has struggled to find his best form in recent seasons and was deployed as a midfielder, an experiment with decidedly mixed results, by former United manager Louis van Gaal and Allardyce’s predecessor Roy Hodgson.
Speaking after his lone match in charge, a 1-0 World Cup qualifying win away to Slovakia, Allardyce, somewhat surprisingly for the man with the ultimate responsibility for preparing and instructing the team, claimed he was not capable of telling his captain where to play on the field.
Jose Mourinho meanwhile, the manager who has relegated Rooney to the Old Trafford bench, does not consider his skipper, nominally a forward for the majority of his career, to be capable of playing in a deeper role.
And while Southgate disagrees, the new man in the national team hot seat has insisted Rooney must follow the orders given to him.
“I don’t want to go against Jose but I think Wayne can play any number of different positions,” Southgate said.
“The only thing I would say – I go back to one of the things we work on with the team – in and out of possession, tactical discipline, positional discipline [is important], whatever position you play. The players must understand that fully.
“As the coach, it is really important to embed that during their training. [Assistant coach] Steve Holland and myself, when we’ve worked with the Under-21s, it’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about and one of the biggest things we’ve felt younger English players need to take on board – with and without the ball, that tactical understanding.”
Southgate, while attempting to offer a positive interpretation of Rooney’s reduced standing at United, also acknowledged it is “not ideal” for the England captain to be struggling for playing time at club level.
“When I’ve been with the Under-21s, I’ve had lots of players who aren’t playing, but we are looking at what’s our best team,” he said.
“If they aren’t playing, OK, that’s not ideal. However, is that player still in your best team and is he still one of your high potential players moving forward? The decision with Wayne is who is the best leader for this moment and there’s no reason to change that.”
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