Rooney-less England still has options
If 15 participants of Euro 2012 have December 2 circled red on their year planners, the remaining side has its own mark seven days later. While the majority awaits the draw, English eyes are fixed firmly on December 9, the date set for the appeal hearing against UEFA’s decision to ban Wayne Rooney for the first (and perhaps England’s only) three matches of the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Even if the suspension for Rooney’s red card against Montenegro is reduced to what would be thought by many to be a more realistic two-match penalty (in line with the sanction dished out to Russia’s Andrei Arshavin four years ago for similar retaliation in their final Euro 2008 qualifier in Andorra), the gap will be keenly felt when the summer’s campaign kicks off.
Ahead of this friendly against fellow qualifier Sweden, the issue of Rooney replacement was almost a moot one, as one pondered the futility of trying to find an effective locum for a player that offers the possibility of so many different functions; main goalscorer, wide creator, even sometime-trequartista all rolled into one.
Some England fans would struggle to summon a shrug at the prospect of Bobby Zamora slotting into the void, a reaction that can’t even be put down to the inter-club rivalry that so frequently colors opinion on the national side. Any such feeling can only be accentuated by a peek at the stats of a man who will turn 31 in January and has reached double figure goals just once in five full and two half top-flight seasons.
Yet Zamora has cache with Fabio Capello, not just for his progress as a late developer, for his eye-catching Europa League performances with Fulham on their run to the 2010 final, or his offer of an alternative attacking conduit with his size. What the Italian has on his hands – should he choose to take Zamora east in seven months’ time – is more than just a rich man’s Emile Heskey, to offer variety on the bench.
Just because England will be forced to come to grips with life without Wayne Rooney doesn't mean they're completely devoid of options.
Club goals are for domestic league competitions only.
Still, in many ways coming up against Sweden was a home-away-from-home for Zamora, even to the extent of resuming hostilities with noted Premier League alumnus Olof Mellberg. Those who like to tut at England’s presumed technical deficiency will have smelt blood at the forward’s first significant involvement, in the 17th minute. The rather improvised nature of his one-two with Theo Walcott ended with the Fulham man poking his shot into the side-netting at the near post.
The opening goal, in the 23rd minute, showed what the quandary presented by Zamora’s physical presence can do to the opposition. Gareth Barry’s flicked header, which went into the far corner off Celtic’s Daniel Majstorovic from Stewart Downing’s floated cross, was steered from a central gap engineered by Zamora’s wide run. Fifteen minutes later, he again drew Mellberg out of the center, leaving space for Jack Rodwell to attack club-mate Leighton Baines’ cross, narrowly missing out on a maiden England goal.
Coming from a culture of passing at Fulham, something only further aided by Martin Jol’s arrival as coach, Zamora’s all-round game has developed a pleasing deftness. His intuitive, chested hold-up on halfway in the 40th minute was sublime, allowing an excitable Phil Jones to maraud clear and draw out Andreas Isaksson, only to see the Sweden `keeper toe the ball agonizingly wide of the far post.
Within a few minutes of the second half Zamora showed the side of his game that was more widely expected, nodding back Downing’s cross for Rodwell to have another effort from a Bryan Robson-esque rush into the box. For all Rodwell’s clear promise, the thought of what the more polished and clinical Frank Lampard might make of similar opportunities created, directly or indirectly, by Zamora offers promise.
By the time he made way for Darren Bent in the 70th minute, even the cynical would find it hard to begrudge Zamora’s utility – not a substitute for Rooney, but certainly applicable to a wide spread of situations, as a squad member at a tournament should be.
That is his most likely fate, as Bent’s recent successes with England presumably make him the first cab off the rank when it comes to covering Rooney. The Aston Villa center-forward may have been harshly criticized in some quarters for his general marginalization against Spain (a curious pop at a goal poacher for a match in which his team enjoyed only the crumbs of possession), but his goal instinct is impeccable, as his involvement in Lampard’s winner against the Spanish proved.
Bent and Zamora may lack the glamor of some of Euro 2012’s prospective stars, but they deserve to be there. Whereas Rooney may be irreplaceable in a direct sense, all is not lost for England. Versatility and influence comes in many shapes and sizes.