England Dropping Rooney Works in Tottenham’s Favor

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Wayne Rooney of England wipes his brow during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between England and Malta at Wembley Stadium on October 8, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08: Wayne Rooney of England wipes his brow during the FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier between England and Malta at Wembley Stadium on October 8, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images) /

Word that Wayne Rooney would be dropped from England should came as good news for at least three English Tottenham players.

This begins as the same general benefit everyone in the England team — not just Tottenham’s representatives — will feel upon his removal. Where Rooney was once a savior, he is now a liability.

Rooney was so good, in fact, that he was more or less assured to burn out rather than fade away. Roy Hodgson felt compelled to start him even as late as this past summer’s Euros. When it became clear he was no where close enough to be leading England’s line, he was dropped deeper and deeper until, in France, he was playing central midfield.

In Hodgson’s defense, this was a pattern than began to unfold at Manchester United. The player has enjoyed a similar untouchable status there for the past few seasons. Louis Van Gaal, desperate to accommodate the player they pay in excess of £200,000 a week, was among the first to fully embrace Rooney’s shift to midfield.

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The problem, from England and its Tottenham contingent’s perspective, is that Wayne Rooney is not a midfielder. He can pass the ball better than you might expect, but when he’s ever asked to evade pressure or reclaim possession or find a quick transition, both he and the team as a whole come up short.

What’s worse is the fact that, especially during the Euros, Rooney’s presence in the side kept out other, more qualified players. Imagine, if you will, how such a talented and impactful player like James Milner felt watching Rooney steal his minutes from the bench.

The five players Tottenham sent to the England squad weren’t directly impacted by Rooney’s presence in the XI. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are full-backs and thus no where close to being forced out by Rooney.

Dele Alli and Eric Dier both had their own, singular roles to play in midfield around Rooney.

Harry Kane’s fine run of form at striker was a significant contributing factor to Rooney being pushed back into midfield, and a healthy Kane isn’t loosing that spot anytime soon.

Together these five Tottenham players contributed to one of the club’s better seasons in its history, and it was thought their fine form would carry over into the summer. When it didn’t many were quick to blame them, but what if an equal or more significant contributing factor was the weak link that was Rooney?

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It’s not a dramatic stretch. Without many clear playmakers available to Hodgson, the burden to set tempo and provide service to the attacking trident of Kane, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana fell to Rooney.

When he proved not quite up for such a task, the plan broke down. Kane often looked isolated, and attacks broke down against organized defenses like Iceland’s.

That was the first sign that Rooney’s days in this England side were within sight. The second came this weekend, when Tottenham wunderkind Dele Alli thrived in a number 10 role, scoring his first competitive goal in the process.

Previously Alli had been deployed in a broad box-to-box role that suited the player fine, but failed to take advantage of his ability to both create and score goals.

Tuesday’s match against Slovenia showed the next stage in Alli’s evolution as Rooney’s successor. Once again, he started in the number 10 role, with Eric Dier coming in for Rooney. Tottenham’s defensive midfielder was one half of a proper midfield base with Jordan Henderson, mimicking a set-up not too dissimilar from Mauricio Pochettino’s side.

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Dier is the direct beneficiary of Rooney being dropped, but overall this is a team much better constructed to deep with both ends of play. Should Alli’s progress continue apace, he could very well keep Rooney out of the side even after Gareth Southgate steps down as interim manager.

While Walker and Rose and Kane are less directly impacted from Rooney’s absence, they will benefit along with the rest of the squad for finally breaking through to a new era, one defined in large part by Tottenham’s youthful revolution.