Gareth Southgate had little doubt over keeping on Wayne Rooney as England captain, describing him as “the outstanding leader” in the national team.
Southgate has been thrust into the spotlight as interim boss for the forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia as Sam Allardyce paid with his job after just one match in charge for being exposed in a newspaper sting.
An issue in Southgate’s in-tray familiar to his predecessor was the status of Rooney, with debate continuing to swirl over his best position following inconsistent displays at Euro 2016, alongside the added complication of him being dropped from the Manchester United first-team by Jose Mourinho.
Nevertheless, the former England defender does not wish to bring any added turbulence to the national-team setup at St George’s Park as the Three Lions look to build on a last-gasp 1-0 win over Slovakia last time out.
Asked what Rooney’s role would be when Malta visit Wembley, Southgate told a news conference: “I’m not sure why I would ever give thew opposition that sort of information but the decision to make him captain in is quite simple.
“What I felt from what I’ve seen around St George’s over the two years [Southgate has served as England Under-21 manager] and from talking to staff is that he’s the outstanding leader in that group.
“It’s a period of change after the summer and now this month. The most important thing at this time is leadership, on and off the field.
“I think that Wayne has provided that over the last two years. The way he has matured into that role is really impressive and there was no doubt in my mind about keeping him in that position.”
Southgate played alongside Rooney when he burst on to the international stage as a prodigious teenager and believes his development since then is to be applauded.
“He was an incredible emergence on the scene when I was still in the squad,” the former Aston Villa and Middlesbrough player recalled.
“I can remember the game at Sunderland where he played against Turkey and had such an incredible impact on it.
“I’ve got to say, without being disrespectful, the character I saw in front of me last week when I saw him was a stark contrast – the way he’s matured, the way he spoke eloquently, his understanding of what was needed for the whole group in terms of leadership and his captaincy, being able to speak about things that affected everybody.
“I couldn’t have been more impressed with the discussion we had.”
The main onus of providing leadership to a squad he identified as lacking in big-match experience will fall to Southgate, capped 57 times by his country.
He helped England to the semi-finals of Euro 96 but missed the decisive penalty in a shootout loss to Germany, and concluded his playing career at Middlesbrough with a run to the UEFA Cup final – only for his sole senior managerial post with the club to end in disappointment.
“I think, again, when you’re thinking about suitability at this moment in time, all of those life experiences are what guides you towards that,” Southgate added.
“I’ve talked to the young players that I’ve worked with about their careers and the journey they’re going to go on in terms of highs and lows.
“I showed them a page of things that had gone really well – big matches I’d played in, things I’d won.
“Then there was another page of being sacked, missing a penalty, all the bits and pieces. What are you – you’re neither one or the other, you’re a combination of all those experiences.
“What those experiences give you, at moments like this, are a lot to fall back on, a lot to know what’s the right thing to say at the right time and the realisation that leadership at moments like this is really crucial.
“That’s what I’ve got to provide for the group of players and support staff over the next two weeks.”
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