England manager Gareth Southgate spent half an hour on the phone to Wayne Rooney, trying to convince the country’s record scorer to reconsider his decision to quit international soccer.
“As a manager, you always want to prod to see, `Has he thought about this decision?”’ Southgate said on Thursday.
“He clearly had.”
Southgate left Rooney out of his last two England squads, thereby taking the captaincy off him, but wanted the 31-year-old striker back involved after his strong start to the Premier League back at Everton.
He called Rooney to tell him his thoughts but Rooney had other ideas, saying he’d chosen instead to concentrate on his club career following the return to his boyhood club from Manchester United in the summer.
“I totally understood his reasoning, moving to Everton and the fresh opportunity he has got there,” Southgate said. “He feels a sense of loyalty to the club for what they have invested in him.”
After scoring 53 goals in 119 appearances, Rooney’s involvement with England might not end there.
Southgate believes Rooney could have a future as a manager or coach, or a mentor to future England players.
“I am sure at some point in the future, there could be some involvement with England,” Southgate said. “Generally we’re trying to engage former England players more than we have done in the past. Help them along their coaching pathway if that’s the way they want to go.
“In recent months we’ve had (former England winger) John Barnes come in and speak to the senior team and had some other players speak to some of the junior teams. It’s important that connection with former England players.”
The debate continues in the English game as to how Rooney should be remembered as an England player, considering his failure to make an indelible mark at a major international tournament.
Yet Southgate said there’s no argument to be had.
“I have seen some debate around, `Is he a legend or isn’t he?”’ he said. “If you are the most-capped outfield player and the record goal-scorer, I’m not sure what else you have to do to be called a legend.”
In his first squad selection since Rooney’s retirement, Southgate called up Leicester center back Harry Maguire and Watford midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah in a 28-man group for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia.
England tops Group F by two points after six of 10 games.
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke), Joe Hart (West Ham), Tom Heaton (Burnley), Jordan Pickford (Everton).
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Aaron Cresswell (West Ham), Phil Jones (England), Michael Keane (Everton), Harry Maguire (Leicester City), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Tottenham), Kyle Walker (Tottenham).
Midfielders: Dele Alli (Tottenham), Nathaniel Chalobah (Watford), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Jake Livermore (West Brom), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City).
Forwards: Jermain Defoe (Sunderland), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal).