Interim England manager Gareth Southgate cannot understand why some supporters booed captain Wayne Rooney during Saturday’s 2-0 win against Malta at Wembley.
Rooney featured in a midfield role, with first-half goals from Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli helping England maintain their 100 per cent record in Group F.
But criticism of Rooney’s performance from the stands left Southgate confused, the manager noting the Manchester United man is “desperate” to represent his country.
“I presented him with a cap in the week for being a record cap holder for his country,” Southgate told reporters. “It’s fascinating to get an insight into his world, every debate seems to focus on him.
“The criticism of him is at times unfair and he ploughs on and plays with pride and captains his country with pride.
“I look back to the [John] Terrys, the [Frank] Lampards, the Ashley Coles, they took enormous criticism but they were the guys that kept turning out and putting themselves on the line and others haven’t done that and withdrawn from squads.
“Those guys are the ones that are desperate to play for England and I think Wayne is in that category. I don’t understand [the boos] but that seems to be the landscape and I have no idea how that’s expected to help him.
“I’m sure they’ll look at the number of games and his goalscoring feats for England but I don’t understand it.”
Southgate added Rooney’s influence remains crucial off the field, while explaining his selection in a deeper position was partly so that goalscorer Alli could operate as a number 10.
“We knew we’d have a lot of the ball and dictate the tempo,” Southgate said. “I think his experience and leadership has been crucial throughout the week.
“I wanted to get Dele higher up the pitch for that link between the midfielders and forwards. He got his goal and he’ll be disappointed that he didn’t get another.”
United manager Jose Mourinho has said he still sees Rooney as a striker, although the player himself says he considers himself a midfielder, and Southgate chose not to be drawn on where his captain will feature against Slovenia on Tuesday.
“Jose will have his opinion on what he thinks is right for his team,” Southgate said.
“I had to select a team to get a result.”