Those were the days when England played "four-four-fucking-two" yet could not find a left winger worthy of that slot. It was an era when Ryan Giggs was heckled for representing England only at schoolboys level, even though he could never actually attain full honours. Now, in an age where four-four-two is considered suicidal, England's lack of left-wingers it is not worthy of back page splashes. That all changed this morning.
Roy Hodgson claims Rooney could start there to continue "recovering his match fitness", having missed Manchester United's final three matches of the season. He arguably needs an hour against both Ecuador on Wednesday and Honduras on Saturday, but if Rooney is to excel at the World Cup he should be deployed centrally. Ostracising him out wide is just another excuse for a player whose tournament history is synonymous with injury and impotency.
“The thinking behind Wayne starting a second game is he only played 60 minutes the other day [against Peru at Wembley on Friday],” Hodgson said. “He didn’t play many games before he joined us. We think that he’s recovering his match fitness. We think that starting a game will be to his advantage, and we’ll see how long he plays.”
“He can do that, absolutely,” the England manager told daily newspaper journalists of Rooney’s position on the flank. “He can play centre forward, behind the centre forward and wide. If he’s done all of those things at the very top level for Manchester United, there is no reason why I can’t use him in those positions as well.
“There is a real obsession with Wayne which I don’t necessarily share. You relate back always to ‘X’ World Cups and episodes in the past. But Wayne is one of my 23 players. I’m very happy to have him here. I don’t have to share the obsession that he has to play here or he has to play that. As far as I’m concerned, I look at the players at my disposal and decide what they need and what we need. Then I expect them to do it.”
Hodgson is beginning to bristle at questions regarding Rooney's role in the team. Gary Lineker, who irked him following the dull 0-0 draw in Ukraine, diplomatically questioned Rooney's starting berth at the weekend and the United striker is no longer the "big man" he billed himself as at the 2006 World Cup.
The friendly with Ecuador will see Rickie Lambert and Ross Barkley start in their preferred positions at No.9 and No.10, traditionally Rooney's coveted spots. There is so little to gain from crowbarring Rooney into the team on the left when he just has to accept he must earn his place in the England side for the first time in 10 years.
Rooney in a wide role is so desperate and daft a move even Sir Alex Ferguson stopped playing him there five years ago. Following an assist for Paul Scholes at Sunderland and two goals against Tottenham in April 2009, Ferguson prematurely compared Rooney to Lionel Messi, then thriving on the right for Barcelona. The comparison was that Rooney could operate in a role which enabled him to cut inside and cause damage, only Ferguson was playing him there merely to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo.
United's devastating dismissal of Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final convinced Ferguson to persevere with Rooney out wide. Ronaldo blitzed the Gunners in a central role whilst Rooney did the donkey work on the wing, assisting the Portuguese's finish to a coruscating counter-attack at the Emirates Stadium.
Rooney was marginalised, though. He started on the left during United's 2008 Champions League campaign and was substituted in the Moscow final, with his only noteworthy contribution a sensational diagonal pass to Ronaldo, whose cross was almost converted by Carlos Tévez. In 2009, Rooney was outwitted by Carles Puyol in Rome.
That was Ronaldo's last game for United and the end of Rooney's stint on the touchline. Ferguson meddled with Rooney's positioning and coached the joy out of him, yet even he knew he was wasted in a position Ryan Giggs played in for 15 years. Not only was Rooney not enamoured by the prerequisites of a winger, but he was not naturally fit enough to fulfil them.
England coaches have difficulty dropping name players. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are still selected three managers and a decade on from when they began subordinating each other, the disciplinarian Fabio Capello resisted demoting David Beckham despite playing his club career in the MLS retirement home and Hodgson is already struggling to justify Rooney's inclusion.
Hodgson did have the balls to overlook Ashley Cole in favour of a teenager with 45 minutes of international experience for a World Cup, and while many disagreed with that decision, it showed he was prepared to make difficult decisions.
Rooney, however, was a regular for his club last season, unlike Cole, and is 28, not 33. He poses a bigger conundrum than Vassell or Heskey.