Wayne Rooney still dreams of ending his international career on a high, despite the England captain being dropped to the bench in Slovenia.
The country’s most capped outfield player and all-time top scorer is to be reduced to a watching brief in Ljubljana after interim boss Gareth Southgate took the decision to drop the 30-year-old.
Rooney has struggled for form and a regular place in the Manchester United lineup recently, with a smattering of fans going as far as to boo the Three Lions captain during Saturday’s straightforward win against Malta at Wembley.
It was a reaction Rooney claimed not to have heard — an assertion some may question the credibility of, yet the fact he answered it at all was remarkable.
Rooney, against Southgate’s initial advice, wanted to speak at the prematch news conference, giving candid, direct and forthright answers to broadcasters and writers several hours after news of his omission leaked out.
“I wouldn’t say brutal,” he said. “I think there are many people playing in the Premier League and around the country who would only dream of being part of an England squad.
“I’ve done it 117 times, but of course a time comes where there might be a bit of a change, but all I can do is keep working and turning up, so that I am ready when called upon.
“I understand this is part of football. It is something which you have to go through and I am big enough to deal with it.”
Professionalism should not be mistaken for accepting this is the beginning of the end, though.
“I am 30 years of age,” Rooney said. “I am not 35 or 36 where you are thinking, ‘Can you get back from it?’
“I will just keep working. I have said before that I will not stop playing for England and then think of going to Dubai for a few days in the international break. I will turn up when called upon and be ready.”
Southgate’s decision was borne out of the desire to better cope with Slovenia’s strengths and was spoken about at great length with Rooney on Sunday evening, becoming apparent to teammates when working on squad shape on the eve of the game.
The decision may be accepted and understood, but the repercussions will include increased talk of how best to utilise Rooney’s talents at a time when he is learning to adapt to physical changes.
“I feel fine,” he said. “But Ryan Giggs at 30 wasn’t the same player at 18. And he played till he was 40.
“There’s lots of examples out there you can use — players re-evaluate and work out the best way to move forwards. I’m sure that will happen with me.”
Asked if a settled position would help, the man deployed in midfield by England and further forward at United said: “It would help, of course. But that’s the manager’s decision where they want me to play.
“I am not naive in terms of thinking that I am still a 20-year-old who could do what I could do when I was 20.
“I understand that. I feel my game is different to that of a 20-year-old, but I also think I have qualities that can help move this team forward.
“So it is a moment which I am in at the minute but, as I keep saying, I have to show the right attitude, be positive and make sure I am supportive of my teammates.”
The willingness to fight was furthered by last week’s meeting with members of the triumphant England side of 1966.
Rooney has been unable to inspire his country beyond the quarter-finals of a major tournament, yet he still dreams of glory as England look to qualify for the World Cup in Russia — his last shot at international silverware.
“I met a few of the ’66 lads last week and, of course, that is how you want to be remembered: successful and winning things,” Rooney said. “It hasn’t happened since then but I always give everything for England.
“Record goal scorer, I am proud of that. I have given everything and will carry on giving everything and try and help myself and my teammates alongside those ’66 lads.”
It is an ambition as admirable as his desire to help his country’s cause in whatever way he can.
“After the summer it would have been easy for me to walk away and say ‘that’s it, I’ve had enough’ but that’s not me,” Rooney added.
“As I keep saying, I feel I have a lot to offer and I’ve made that clear, certainly up until Russia if we get there. That’s what I want to fulfil.
“Listen, I’m not suddenly going to turn round and say ‘I’m not playing, I’m not going to turn up’ — I know I can be a big help for the other players, whether I’m playing or not, both on and off the pitch.”