WAYNE ROONEY is emerging as the central figure in Roy Hodgson’s England plans.
Rooney was absent on Saturday night, resting a niggling injury, as England began the Hodgson era with a 1-0 win over Norway in Oslo.
The Manchester United striker will also be missing on June 11 when the Three Lions open their Euro 2012 campaign against France in Donetsk and again when they look for their first win over Sweden in a competitive game since 1968.
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However, Rooney’s influence remains huge.
In winning on Saturday, Hodgson made a conscious decision to let Ashley Young drift around target man Andy Carroll.
The tactic worked a treat in that Young scored the early winner, part of an overall impressive display from the one-time Aston Villa winger in which he dovetailed neatly with Carroll.
What Hodgson was thinking though, was that the formation is one that suits Rooney to perfection.
“Two strikers will be the way forward during my time with England because we have Wayne Rooney,” said Hodgson.
“We don’t have him for the Euros. We might end up missing him for the Euros and regretting the fact but it is a temporary thing.
“There is a lot of football to be played after the Euros and when you have a player like Rooney, who is excellent in that position, it would seem a bit strange if we just went to one lone forward.”
On occasion, Sir Alex Ferguson has frustrated Rooney by playing him in positions other than the one in which he is most effective.
To accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo’s unwillingness to defend, the 26-year-old was shunted onto the left.
Following the former world player of the year’s departure, Rooney was used as the battering ram on his own up front.
Yet it has been the emergence of Danny Welbeck this term that has allowed him to find his best form on a consistent basis, offering the opportunities to find the space from which he can cause mayhem.
“We all know he is best in that position,” said Hodgson.
“The fact he is so good in other positions is another matter.
“In my conversations with him and all the games I have watched him play he is extremely dangerous when he plays as a second striker.”
Young has quickly established himself as a more than adequate stand-in, which in turn offers Welbeck a bit more time to recover from the ankle injury that kept him on Saturday.
In addition, there were other decent performances, from Leighton Baines and Joleon Lescott in particular, which raise the potential for Hodgson having some pleasant selection dilemmas when England begin their European Championship quest in a fortnight.
Indeed, though John Terry, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole remain favourites to face the French, the Chelsea contingent, which also includes Frank Lampard, will report for duty today not feeling quite so secure.
“Good players playing well don’t give me a problem. They give me a decision,” said Hodgson.
“The problem comes when you don’t feel you have the right quality of player to work with.
“It will be a problem for everybody else in terms of competition.
“No one is nailed on in this team.”
It would be silly to disguise faults. Straight line football may still get results against a straight line team like Norway but it probably won’t be enough against Spain, or France for that matter.
An ability to keep possession for any length of time continues to be the preserve of other nations, the fault particularly obvious in the second-half when more incisive teams than Norway might have exerted more pressure on England’s defence.
However, this merely provides Hodgson with more areas for improvement.
For, whilst Euro 2012 is now in sharp focus, he has not forgotten the contract he signed just four weeks ago, lasts for four years.
“I am looking beyond the Euros,” he said.
“I signed a contract to do this job over the coming years and have my sights firmly fixed on the future.
“I want to do well in the Euros and want to make the team as well organised and well prepared as I can.
“But I am not prepared to make the Euros the be-all and end-all in terms of me making a mark on the team and improving it in the future.”
• Roy Hodgson is expected to call Phil Jagielka into his Euro 2012 squad if Gareth Barry is ruled out by a groin injury.
Although Hodgson predicted a scan on the problem Barry suffered during the second- half of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Norway would take place within 24 hours, it now transpires the assessment will not be made until today.
The chances of Barry satisfying Hodgson of his fitness before England’s confirmed 23-man squad has to be submitted to UEFA tomorrow lunchtime appear remote, although the Three Lions boss accepts he may have to take the Manchester City man on trust.
If Barry is ruled out, Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson should, in theory, be the replacement as the midfield standby.
However, even though he won his third cap in the Ullevaal Stadium, Henderson has been below-par for long periods of his debut season on Merseyside and Manchester United’s Michael Carrick might have been a better bet.