Last night’s defeat against Italy leaves England with a must-win next game against Uruguay but there were many positive things to take from this for the next match and for the future.
The “Pirlo question” — a player who causes England so many problems — was still not fully dealt with. This time, his influence was more subtle but deadly — creativity at its most sublime, a weighing of angles and appreciation of space possibly unrivaled at present – the dummy for the first goal was an invisible assist.
Having said that, he was still allowed too much space and freedom. A player as important as this needs to be clamped down in a vice-like grip until his spirit sags and his influence is snuffed out.
This aside, there was though, at last, a sense of adventure from an England team, a determination to take the game to the opposition and force their attacking quality on the game.
It worked, in general. Daniel Sturridge was full of confidence and swagger. Danny Welbeck was positive and energetic. And in particular Sterling set the tone with his readiness to turn and run directly at the Italian defense. He is a player other teams will now fear.
Wayne Rooney showed his undoubted quality with a superb cross for Sturridge’s goal. But again his performance and position will invite heated debate.
Rooney is as honest a player as you will find. This is not a sulking superstar who doesn’t like his position. This is a player who will always do his best but one who needs to be constantly involved and used. And when pinned down to a role that includes a specific defensive task then, as many gifted attacking players do, he can find it difficult.
With a relatively new full back behind him needing support (does Leighton Baines have the ‘authority’ to push and pull Rooney where he needs him to be?), England were ruthlessly exposed by Italy. In soccer, the enemy’s weaknesses are explored and exploited. Italy did this and England suffered.
How do you get the best of your most talented performer? How do you ensure his strengths outweigh his weaknesses, to ensure the team benefits not suffers?
These are all difficult questions as Uruguay and Costa Rica (if that game matters by then) will surely pinpoint the side Rooney plays on in the next game as a potential source of success.
England has your biggest talent bursting to show his worth and the manager looking for the right spot to fit him in. These are the £3.5m-a-year decisions that Roy has to make.