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Hodgson hits out in Rooney row

ESPN staff
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Roy Hodgson wants to get England players to sing

Roy Hodgson put himself at the centre of the debate about Wayne Rooney's World Cup future on Wednesday after engaging in the phoney war of tournament build-up.

The England manager was involved in a bizarre exchange with a reporter about Rooney's ability, refusing to describe the striker as an exceptional player after revealing a plan to play him on the left flank.

Hodgson had no trouble in describing Liverpool's Raheem Sterling as just such a talent on the same day and appears either to be suffering from the siege mentality which did little for previous Englishmen in charge of the national team, notably Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren, or playing mind games with the player many consider the country's talisman.

Vieira pours scorn on England chances

Roy Hodgson and Wayne Rooney have no hope, according to Patrick Vieira © Getty Images
  • Former France captain Patrick Vieira says England don't stand a chance at this summer's World Cup.
  • England start their campaign against Italy on June 14 before facing Uruguay and Costa Rica, and Vieira believes they will struggle to get out of the group.
  • "It's true no-one is expecting them to do anything. They are in a very complicated group," he said.
  • "They could cause an upset because they do have players like Rooney and Gerrard capable of making the difference.
  • "But honestly, I don't see them going very far. I hope that I'm wrong because it's a team that I like a lot and there are a lot of players I like."

The exchange, which took place after a training session in Miami on Tuesday, followed an earlier complaint from Hodgson about what he said was a media "obsession" with the player. It is not the first time he has shown frustration at being asked repeatedly about Rooney and this instance began with the reporter's claim that the striker was an "exceptional player who is likely to be England's record goalscorer in a couple of years".

Hodgson responded by saying: "With respect, you make him an exceptional player when you want to make him an exceptional player, and when you want to make him a player that you don't think should be in the team, you make him that as well. You have to understand that I have to allow you to decide whether he is exceptional and I decide from a coaching point of view how I want to use him.

"You're saying he is an exceptional player. I'm not saying if he's exceptional or not. I have picked him because he is a very good player and I think it's wrong of you quite frankly to now suggest you use words about him and you either want me to refute them or agree with them. I don't think you should put me in that position.

"I am not here to talk about Wayne Rooney, the person that you decide you want to talk about all the time. I am only prepared to talk about Wayne Rooney as one member of my squad and a player who I hope will help us have a good World Cup.

"If I say 'Yes he is exceptional' or 'No I don't think he's exceptional' I'm wrong either way. He's a football player. I like to use him. You decide the epithets, you make him exceptional or after the last game I understand quite a few people made him less than exceptional. They criticised his performance. That's your decision. I make my decisions on his performance."

The exchange gives an indication of how tense things can become around the England camp as everyone connected to it waits for the real action to begin in Brazil.

Hodgson has been irked before by others with less managerial or coaching experience than him criticising his approach. He spoke publicly of his disappointment at comments from Gary Lineker last year and lacks no confidence in his ability, claiming recently he could coach a pub side to keep out Manchester United's attack.

But Hodgson has also lauded Rooney previously, too, describing him as one of the country's best players, leaving some following the camp a little bemused.

What sparked the episode was Hodgson giving an indication of his plans to experiment in the friendly against Ecuador on Wednesday. In a training session used to give the line-up time to gel, he included players such as Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with James Milner at right back.

Rickie Lambert was the central striker with Barkley in behind and Rooney was relegated to the left. Hodgson clearly feels that trying out the formation in a friendly makes sense, with England's first World Cup game, against Italy, on June 14.

"Wayne's a very useful player in the sense you don't have to pin him down and say 'this is the only position he can play'," Hodgson said. "He can play centre-forward, behind the centre-forward and wide. If he's done all of those things at the very top level for Manchester United, there is no reason why I can't use him in those positions as well.

"There is a real obsession with Wayne which I don't necessarily share. You relate back always to World Cups in the past and episodes in the past. But Wayne is one of my 23 players. I'm very happy to have him here. I don't have to share the obsession that he has to play here or he has to play there. I look at the players at my disposal and decide what they need and what we need. Then I expect them to do it."

...while Graham Taylor was called a 'turnip' by the tabloids © PA Photos
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So, is Hodgson annoyed to have his tactics - or the right to experiment with them - questioned, frustrated by the focus on Rooney or engaging in mind games with a player who is capable of turning England from also-rans into contenders?

His response to questions about another creative talent, Barkley, suggests the focus on individuals has got his goat. Asked whether Barkley is a contender to face Italy, Hodgson said: "Yes. You're not going to get me to start making those statements 'this one, whatever he does, he's got no chance, this one, whatever he does he's nailed on.'

"I've chosen a squad of players. If we do well at the World Cup, we'll be calling on all of them at some stage. Barkley is here because I think he's a very good player. He's more than capable, if selected for England, of doing a very good job for us."

There was a hint of Taylor and McClaren in that, too, though, in as far as Hodgson seems to be growing just a little paranoid about how his words might be used in media reports. He had made a potentially damaging mistake earlier on when he tried to make a joke about Ecuador and what little he knew about them.

After a deluge of questions on the opposition, he said that "It's a bit like me asking you what are the chances of Crewe Alexandra getting out of the second division," and perhaps should have been grateful that more was not made of his clumsily made point about the lack of scrutiny on the opposition relative to his Premier League stars.

Taylor, in the now infamous documentary Do I Not Like That, revealed how obsessed he became with the way reporters would react to his decisions and statements. He was eventually plastered over the back of a red-top tabloid newspaper depicted as a Turnip and McClaren, who was often taken to task by those who covered England, became the Wally with the Brolly.

Hodgson, unless he is significantly more savvy than them, is in danger of heading in a similar direction if things go wrong for England in Brazil. There is, of course, the possibility that he is.

Rooney has made it clear before that he does not like playing out wide and always wants to be his team's "big man". Yet he has struggled recently with injury and failed to find his best form. He is also a player who some believe plays at his best when he is a little angry or has a point to prove.

Whatever Hodgson had in mind when he showed his irritable side in Miami should become clear when the phoney war is over and the action in Brazil finally starts. That time can't come soon enough.

Wayne Rooney is likely to start on the left of midfield against Ecuador © Getty Images
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