The past week of build-up to England’s Group D opening game against Italy has been dominated by discussions on the importance of Wayne Rooney to Roy Hodgson’s side. Triggered by Paul Scholes’ assertion that Rooney might be “worn out” and past his peak, it seems like everyone has an opinion on the value Rooney actually brings to the side.

This is in stark contrast to previous tournaments, when heaps of pressure weighed heavily on Rooney’s shoulders as England’s talisman and often only source of inspiration. However, Rooney has failed to score in eight World Cup matches and has not been in sparkling form for quite some time — neither for club nor country. In fact, many critics have questioned whether Rooney even deserves a place in England’s starting XI on Saturday. The emergence of Daniel Sturridge as Hodgson’s preferred man to lead the line as well as the exciting young talents like Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley have meant that Rooney’s starting position is far from secure.

The general consensus is that Rooney’s best and favorite position is as a No. 9 where he is the focal point of the attack. It was playing in that role when he was at his best for Manchester United, scoring 34 goals in both the 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons. However, in order to fit in Hodgson’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, Rooney has to accept a place as one of the attacking three to support Sturridge.

Personally I still think he is England’s best player and must start on Saturday. He will have most influence on the game playing in the hole behind Sturridge rather than out wide, especially considering the pace of Sterling could cause Italy real problems on the wings.

Phil Neville has responded to the debate by expressing his annoyance at the “witch-hunt” of Rooney and just an excuse by the media to focus on anything negative about England. Neville, who worked with Rooney throughout the whole of last season at Manchester United, is certain that the striker is “totally driven to perform at this World Cup”. Neville added “there is no doubt in my mind that Wayne is the first name on the teamsheet. Let’s just hope that he delivers and these silly rumors and suggestions go away.”

Ultimately time will tell whether Rooney performs this summer. For a player of his ability to go three consecutive World Cups without scoring would be quite remarkable.