As yet another lacklustre England performance fades quickly away, we're all left wondering how it was possible to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory against a team that's only been in existence for five years.
Clearly, the England team is not as good as it once as. Fans and commentators talk about the lack of passion and commitment, but the significant deficiencies run deeper than that. The rest of the world has caught up. Once where it was the number of hat-tricks Gary Lineker would score in qualifying that was the litmus test of success, now it appears as though qualification is success itself.
The trouble is, England have only one great player, or two when Steven Gerrard is fit. That in itself isn't a problem, it only becomes an issue when the player is bigger than the team he's playing in - or thinks so anyhow.
The enigma that is Wayne Rooney cannot be underrated. He is the 3rd highest paid player in the world, he averages a goal every 2 games for Manchester United. He's won four league titles, a Champions League. In 2004, he was going to be the best player we'd seen in an England shirt since Bobby Charlton; the boy can play. The stats support this undoubted ability. England have played three games without Rooney since the last World Cup and won none of them. In that same period, England have won seven of the nine games they have played with Rooney in the team, with the two draws against Montenegro accounting for the other two matches.
Beneath all of this though is something even more crucial than ability. Beneath the brilliance is a flawed and self-destructive character. His disciplinary record is well-documented, as are his off the field misadventures. All of this however, could be forgivable. England have had players of this ilk before, petulant, flammable characters with ability in droves and built of dubious moral fibre. Rooney is different; he's not able to focus in the face of adversity. He does not deliver when he is expected to and he puts himself ahead of his teammates far too often (rewind twelve months for an example of this).
A sign of things to come was the 2004 friendly in Spain. The team, outplayed, were subject to racial taunts from the home fans and a short-fused and angered Wayne Rooney was substituted before he got himself sent off. Yes, the chants were horrific, but there was simply no need for the outburst. It was unprofessional, foolish and immature. Fast forward seven years and the boy is still not yet a man.
Anyone who has studied team building theory will know that balance and togetherness are the fundamental building blocks of successful teams, not ability.
Take Norwich City as an example. Few would say that the Championship promotion winning side of last year had any 'Rooneys'. Cardiff City had ex-Premier League stars Craig Bellamy, Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra. Reading had Shane Long, Jimmy Kebe and Matthew Mills. Leicester City had the talented Yakubu amongst other internationals. Norwich boss Paul Lambert approached things a different way. He proved that selecting from a group of 15 or so hard-working, likeable professionals can achieve more than a team made up of envious 'side-show' players to the one or two gifted, but high maintenance stars. Lambert's team was balanced, focussed and together, a recipe ripe for over-achieving in the Championship.
There are many other examples of the importance of teams over individuals. Few could argue that Manchester City's 'money can't buy' dream team have achieved what they should have given the significant investment of Sheikh Mansour. The jury is out on whether anything is different this season. They certainly don't look a happy camp. International football is full of examples of groups of average players being moulded into great teams. Think Greece in Euro 2004 or even Germany in 2002.
Whether or not you want Rooney to attend the finals in Poland and Ukraine is a personal view. However, on balance, I'm not convinced that England are any better off with a player who is at times quite brilliant and at other times, a liability. Show some strength Fabio and put the best team out at Euro 2012, not the best players. Don't take the idiot abroad.
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