Outstanding performances by three attacking players in England’s 3-2 comeback win over Germany on Saturday has sparked renewed debate about where injured captain Wayne Rooney fits in for the Euro 2016 finals.
After Roy Hodgson’s team fell 2-0 behind to the world champions in Berlin, the Premier League’s two leading scorers this season, Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane and Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy, brought England level with superb goals.
Many observers, including Germany’s former World Cup-winning captain Lothar Matthaeus, made teenager Dele Alli the man of the match in what Hodgson called his best night as England manager.
Alli, 19, played in the ‘No.10’ role just behind the main striker, which is arguably Rooney’s most effective position.
When playing as a lone striker, the Manchester United captain has often looked isolated and become frustrated by a lack of involvement, tending to drop too deep to seek the ball.
Before injuring a knee against Sunderland on Feb. 13 Rooney was on a good run, but still has only seven league goals this season — like Alli — compared to Kane’s 21 and Vardy’s 19.
“I am a big fan of Wayne Rooney, but today we didn’t miss him in the game,” Matthaeus said during live television coverage.
Geoff Hurst, whose hat-trick won England the 1966 World Cup final against West Germany, believes Vardy could be a surprise package in the European Championship finals in France.
“He’s come from nowhere, a very good level-headed guy who’s very sensible, very intelligent,” Hurst told the BBC on Sunday.
“Either Harry Kane or Vardy definitely deserve their place with the season they’ve had.
“And Alli has made an impact not just at club level but in internationals.”
Under-achievers at recent international tournaments, England have often been criticised for taking players who were not 100 per cent fit — including Rooney at the 2006 World Cup.
Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development from 2004-14, told the BBC the most important thing for Rooney was to be fully fit this time.
“The starting point is get himself fit because he’s not an automatic choice to come back in, with the side as they have done without him,” he said.
“He’s not quite cracked tournaments for England.
“You’ve got three warm-up games in May and June and Wayne’s got to prove he’s worth his place,” added Brooking.
“It’s very tempting to have Kane and Alli as automatic choices if they stay fit and continue playing like they are. Then you’ve got the option to bring Jamie Vardy on.”
With 51 international goals, Rooney is England’s record scorer and his 109 appearances make him the country’s fourth most capped player.
Solutions to the selection dilemma could include playing him on the left of the midfield three, where he has sometimes operated for United, or dropping Alli deeper, which might limit the Tottenham man’s effectiveness.
Suddenly, however, the prospect of Rooney catching Steven Gerrard (114 caps) and David Beckham (115), let alone goalkeeper Peter Shilton (125) looks less than a formality.