It seems every World Cup, England puts together a solid team, that somehow depends upon the brilliance of a single man, who can take the merely good players around him, and make them into world beaters. In years past it was Beckham, and this year it’s Wayne Rooney.
Ask the common man why Rooney is so important to England, and he’ll say it’s because of his goals, of course. Top scorer in the qualifying campaign for his country, scores often, and in a variety of ways in the Premiership and Europe, the man finds the back of the net. However, his worth is far more than the goals he scores, his real value is how he makes the entire English offense around him much better.
Rooney is not a one-dimensional striker, while he can latch onto a through ball and finish, but he can also create his own shot, and this season he has become a threat in the air as well. All this means that he is going to demand more than one defender from the opposition in order to close him down. When that happens, Rooney’s constant movement means that the two center backs are going to be closer together, and often even parallel to each other, opening space through the middle for interplay between Rooney and the midfielders going forward, (there were times this happened in the second half against Mexico with Gerrard).
If one of the fullbacks comes over to plug the middle then Rooney’s neat passing game can find a winger, who will then be free to use the only asset Capello’s wingers posess, sheer pace. With England’s backs also capable of bombing forward, having a fullback out of position for the opposition is exactly what England want, letting the likes of Walcott cut in from the sides for layoffs and crosses.
This is only possible because of Rooney’s sheer work ethic, compare him to Manchester United’s other big name striker, Berbatov. He has a better touch than Rooney, and better vision, yet he doesn’t score or contribute good passes against strong opposition because he doesn’t move. Berbatov takes up position in or around the box and waits for the ball to be played to him, making him simple for the center backs to control, for long periods, he can be marked with just one man, leaving the other back to roam and close down other players, and then come back and clog the middle. Berbatov then often becomes a ball-stopper because of how quickly he can be closed down and the offense stagnates.
Rooney never allows this, because he is constantly working to get between the center backs, thus drawing both of them towards him, meaning they take up less space through the middle, leaving large holes for others. So oftentimes even though he doesn’t score, it is his initial effort that has cleared the area for others to get to shooting spots. While I do expect him to score goals in South Africa, England cannot win with him as their only form of offense, he needs to continue to do it all, both get himself shots and get his teammates looks on goal as well.