England football team manager Sam Allardyce, smiles during the press conference at St George’s Park, Burton central England, on Monday August 29, 2016. England will play Slovakia in a World Cup qualifying group match in Slovakia on Sunday. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA via AP
Wayne Rooney will remain as England captain but his midfield experiment with the national team is over, with the Manchester United veteran set to revert to playing as a deep-lying forward under new coach Sam Allardyce.
“Wayne has been an excellent captain for England and the manner in which he has fulfilled the role made it an easy decision for me to ask him to continue,” Allardyce said Monday, having taken his time to settle on who should have the armband after being hired in July.
Rooney received the symbolically prestigious honor of captaining England on a permanent basis in 2014, taking over the role from Steven Gerrard. Rooney has played 115 times for England, putting him level with David Beckham as the country’s most-capped outfield player.
England plays Slovakia in its opening World Cup qualifier on Sunday, for what will be Allardyce’s first game in charge.
“Wayne’s record speaks for itself. He is the most senior member of the squad and he is hugely respected by his peers,” Allardyce said. “All of these factors point towards him being the right choice to lead the team.”
Rooney finished last season playing as a central midfielder for United under Louis van Gaal, and played there for England during its European Championship campaign that ended with an embarrassing last-16 loss to Iceland.
New United manager Jose Mourinho has returned Rooney to the No. 10 role behind the striker, and Allardyce also thinks that’s his best position.
“Wayne’s position has changed at Manchester United,” Allardyce said, “and that’s the sort of position I’d be looking for him to be playing in.”
The player most affected by that positional tweak is Ross Barkley, who was dropped on Sunday by Allardyce in his first squad announcement since replacing Roy Hodgson as England coach. Barkley plays in the same position as United captain Rooney at Everton, and has started the season in good form for his club with two goals in four games.
With Dele Alli included in England’s squad, it appears there was no room for another attacking playmaker.
“We have had to make some very difficult decisions, none more so than obviously I would think Ross Barkley,” Allardyce said. “But you have to make these decisions. The door will always be open for Ross, but at this moment I felt the squad I picked is the right one.”
Looking to put his own stamp on the national team, Allardyce has recalled winger Theo Walcott and also picked an uncapped wide player in Michail Antonio of West Ham. It would suggest Allardyce is looking to play with more width than England did under Hodgson.
Antonio’s rise to the national team is being compared to that of Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, in that he started out in non-league football — with Tooting and Mitcham, a club in south London — rather than in an academy of a big club.
He had spells on loan at lowly clubs before joining Sheffield Wednesday and then Nottingham Forest. Antonio moved to West Ham last year and has impressed as a right-sided midfielder, especially in the air. He has scored eight headed goals since the start of last season — including one in each of his last two league games.
“His journey is something that deserves to be in this squad and me to have a look at as a potential player going forward,” Allardyce said. “It’s a bit similar to Jamie Vardy — it shows if you have got guts and determination and desire, how much it means.
“He goes forward, creates a career for himself and finally ends up in the Premier League and with us in this squad. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Marcus Rashford wasn’t included by Allardyce, despite going on as a substitute to score United’s injury-time winner against Hull in the Premier League on Saturday in his first appearance of the season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has displaced 18-year-old Rashford up front at United.
Rashford will instead play for England under-21s this week to get some game time.
“Having international experience with the under-21s will be invaluable for us later down the line,” Allardyce said. “If he plays for Manchester United on a regular basis, he would certainly — if he is breaking into the Manchester United team — be in my squad.
“He made a massive impact last season, yes, but he’s only a young man, let’s not heap too much pressure on him just yet.”