Moore: England mustn't rely on Rooney

BY foxsports • October 18, 2011

talisman (noun, pl. -mans) - Anything thought to have magical or protective powers

Fifty-four minutes gone, and the substitutes' board appears. He looks up, sees his number and slowly but purposefully strides toward the touchline. The burden of carrying a nation weighing heavily on his shoulders, he removes the captain's armband and takes his place on the bench.

This battle is lost, he knows. Despite the score locked at 1-1, Spain are on their way home; France are much stronger, the powerhouse midfielder Patrick Vieira is driving them forward again and the genius of Zinedine Zidane, aided and abetted by Florent Malouda, Franck Ribery (who has already scored a sublime equaliser) and Thierry Henry will eventually see them run out 3-1 winners, the mercurial Zidane exquisitely placing a cherry on top in injury time by cutting inside Puyol and skewering the ball into the Spanish net right through the middle of their hearts.

With that deft move, Spain's hopes are crushed, and so is Raúl's 100-odd cap international career.

Wayne Rooney's latest stumble illustrates the shortcomings of Talisman Syndrome.

Spain were cured of 'Talisman Syndrome' by the passing of time. They never really set about looking for a cure. Instead, a man and captain who had so often been appealed to for something, anything, to make the difference at a crucial time in a crucial game was suddenly no longer available to them.

Whilst a 3-2 defeat to Northern Ireland in Belfast was no way for a man of such immense quality to end his international career, it was the trigger event which caused Spain to sit up and realise that there was life after their all-time top scorer and captain, and they had the good sense to not only not look for a replacement, but to resist recalling him when his form for Real Madrid made him difficult to ignore.

Instead, they harnessed the collective spirit and ability of their squad to work and play as a unit, allowed Fernando Torres and David Villa to grow and evolve upfront and their stunningly inventive midfield to pull strings as they'd never been pulled before.

In that same tournament, in the same round, and very nearly in the same minute of the game, another Talisman was also exiting the field, but in a more explosive manner. This was the first (but, as we saw last week, not the last) example of Wayne Rooney's fragile temperament. His unnecessary stamp on Ricardo Carvalho left the referee no option but to produce the red card.

In actual fact, Wayne Rooney wasn't quite a fully-fledged Talisman by that point. The baton of crushing expectation hadn't fully completed its journey because the other half still had the fingers of David Beckham wrapped fairly tightly around it. But as sure as night follows day, the sun would eventually set on Beckham's international career, just as it had on Paul Gascoigne's before him, and Rooney was always destined to have the albatross with a red St. George's cross crassly painted on it hung around his neck by the media, the public and, most criminally of all, his teammates.

Elsewhere, Italy, the eventual winners of that World Cup in 2006, had recently had a Talisman Syndrome of their own to contend with. It had been touch and go whether Francesco Totti would appear in the tournament at all due to a metatarsal injury, and the general public were sent white with worry over how they would perform without the jewel in their crown.

Il Gladiatore had inherited his millstone from Alessandro Del Piero of course, who'd taken up the mantle from the universally-loved Roberto Baggio before him, and Italy were stuck in a mire, constantly looking towards their Talisman for inspiration.

Then along came Marcelo Lippi, who paid particular attention to the togetherness of his squad, and Totti was asked to play more of a team role. He acquiesced, put his attitude and role at the mercy of his teammates, and their Talisman Syndrome was cured. Lippi had coached the entire country out of it, and the Italians were victorious.

Back in Blighty, Rooney clearly suffers from the pressure that international football bestows upon him. A young man that uses aggression to fuel his clear and remarkable talent, he simply has to play on the very edge of his wits to perform at the highest level.

At United, he has always had other, more talented bodies around him and the pressure to perform, while still hugely daunting, seems bearable, even enjoyable to him. For England however, he is unable to carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders alone. To that end, he is not a player England should look to bail them out of a sinking ship again and again, he simply needs to be considered part of a team, a unit, a functioning group that work and play together.

England aren't as good as Spain of '08 or '10, or even as good as Italy '06, but they can operate at a much higher level in international tournaments if they choose their attitude more carefully. Last summer, individuals were continually looked to. Eyes settled desperately on someone to do the footballing equivalent of kissing us on the forehead and applying a plaster after we'd fallen off our bike.

When it became abundantly clear that Rooney wasn't at the races, we instinctively looked elsewhere for another neck to hang the by now rotting, featherless albatross around. Joe Cole. Gareth Barry. GARETH BARRY.

Spain are the most talented team in international football, but that's not the sole reason they're reigning European and world champions. They had bags of talent well before then but had always failed. The difference now is that they act, play and win (and lose) as a team. England owe it to themselves to at least attempt to do the same.

Rooney's petulant lashing out shouldn't be seen as 'just our luck', or 'typical England', it should be seen as an opportunity. The leg that kicked out at Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic should be seen as an injection that rids the England football team of Talisman Syndrome forever.

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