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Wayne Rooney 'ready to lead England'

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Football columnist, The London Telegraph

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Wayne Rooney believes he is ready to take on the responsibility of captaining England and leading the national team out of a particularly bleak period, even by their standards.

"It's my time," said the 28-year-old, who leads England out against Norway at Wembley on Wednesday night, UK time.

He hopes the armband will make him an even better player. "I've always played my game, been vocal, demanded a lot from myself," said the Manchester United striker.

"Obviously, the stuff off the pitch, I'll learn. It's new to me, but I'll learn": Rooney.

"Obviously, the stuff off the pitch, I'll learn. It's new to me, but I'll learn": Rooney. Photo: AFP

"I'm harsh on myself, and I'm harsh on my teammates and demanded a lot from them too. But there is that added responsibility. I don't know whether it can make you better, but I hope so."

After the Steven Gerrard era, it is Rooney's time and he understands the demands of the role. It is more than his conduct during 90 minutes; it is about his relationship with Roy Hodgson, building up the strong rapport that Gerrard had with the manager.

It is about anticipating the concerns of the younger players, sensing any unease in advance, and being a conduit with the manager. It is about keeping sponsors happy and feeding the media beast.

This time, the scrutiny will be even more intense, even for somebody who has lived in the public eye since he broke into the Everton team as a teenager.

Signing a new contract in front of countless cameras at Goodison Park in 2003, Rooney went to swig from a bottle of water, prompting manager David Moyes to whisper: "Use the f---ing glass."

He did on Tuesday, sitting in a hotel after training, sipping on some English mineral water, reflecting on new responsibility and old frustrations, on his time.

Injuries and suspensions permitting, Rooney will mark his century of caps at home to Slovenia on November 15. He is already within nine goals of equalling Sir Bobby Charlton's England goalscoring mark.

Yet Rooney knows he has underperformed internationally, along with generation after generation. He pointed out that "it's everyone since 1966" who has failed to live up to England's perennial great expectations.

He willingly accepted the challenge, not hesitating when Hodgson asked him to be Gerrard's successor. "I was aware Steven was thinking about it," Rooney said. "I spoke to him after the World Cup and he said he was thinking about retiring. When he actually did, I just saw it on the news. He was a great player for England, and someone we will miss."

Now it is his time. Rooney feels he has been shaped for this moment, learning from a range of characters as captain, starting with Duncan Ferguson at Everton and then Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Nemanja Vidic at United. For England, Rooney has played under David Beckham, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Gerrard and Frank Lampard, as well as Michael Owen and Ashley Cole.

Of these "fantastic captains", Rooney picked out three, starting with "Gary Neville at Manchester United". Sitting alongside Rooney, Hodgson interjected that "he had to say that" about one of his England coaches.

Smiling, Rooney continued: "Gary knows the game very well, that's where you see him going straight into the job he's doing at [sports broadcaster] Sky. Becks [David Beckham] was obviously a great ambassador for English football, and Steven had both qualities. I was close with Steven and probably watched him closer than any of them, with the way he handled himself and the team.

"I was in that little group which Steven put together for the last two years, and we had regular meetings with the manager and that eases you into the position of being captain. Steven has helped me a lot. He has a lot of qualities. He's the one who demanded the most on the pitch, which is what I feel is my strongest quality. Obviously, the stuff off the pitch, I'll learn. It's new to me, but I'll learn."

His private life has been dissected in the past, his enjoyment of an occasional cigarette noted.

"You do have to be an ambassador, take the responsibility and be a role model for young kids," he acknowledged. "That's what I want to do. I had a few issues in my young days but they're behind me now. I'm prepared to take the responsibility and I want to represent my country well."

He knows the interest in him will heighten now he has possession of the armband with club and country. "I've had to deal with a lot in my career, and I'm used to a lot of things, but as captain of Manchester United and England I'm sure it will [heighten].

"But 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 don't want to finish my career with England having not won anything. I've always wanted to win a trophy with England, and if I can lead us to do that, that'll be the pinnacle of my career. That will be very difficult, 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. It's pointless not having that as your aim or your desire."

He sensed the national "backlash" against the team after a poor World Cup, leading to a modest gate against Norway.

"It is lower than normal, but it's still 40,000 fans there or thereabouts, which is great considering the disappointment at the World Cup. We wanted to do better. We didn't. We're all devastated but we have to move on. We're always grateful to the fans, their support is second to none. Hopefully we can repay them with some good performances over the next two years, and exciting attractive football to qualify for Euro 2016."

Against Norway, England line up with Joe Hart in goal and a back four of John Stones, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones and Leighton Baines. Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson form central midfield, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Raheem Sterling wide. Rooney partners Daniel Sturridge in attack.

"The starting 11 is players who – apart from John Stones – were all at the World Cup and felt that disappointment," Rooney said.

"I've been waiting for this game since the World Cup finished. I've been excited for this game, to get back trying to win for England. I'm sure the other lads are as well."

Rooney will play off Sturridge against Norway, and could drop even deeper for his club. Radamel Falcao's arrival has brought another forward into the United fold, leading to suggestions Rooney could be withdrawn into midfield.

"It's a fantastic signing, a real show of intent from United, and an exciting time," said Rooney of the Colombian. "He's one of the best players in the world. I certainly feel I'm capable of dropping back [into midfield].

"I'm sure one day I will. On the back end of my career, I'll probably definitely play there."

When Hodgson then spoke about why he would not be following the "trend" of playing a back three, there was not a flicker of emotion across Rooney's face.

And he just shrugged when mention was made of his being called "a bit chubby" by the Norway defender Vegard Forren, briefly of Southampton.

"To be honest I'm not really too interested," said Rooney, who has rarely looked leaner.

"I think Wayne is in fantastic physical condition," interceded Hodgson. "As for myself..."

"I think you look all right!" Rooney laughed.

Smiles were briefly back on England's face.

The Telegraph, London

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Round 5
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