sport news Gareth Southgate defends Wayne Rooney's England ahead of USA friendly

There was a moment at Wembley on Thursday when it seemed officials at the Football Association had come to their senses.

On the FA website Gareth Southgate and his latest squad of England players were listed with a portrait of each one. Next to the picture of the England manager, however, there was a blank space. It was where Wayne Rooney should have been.

But it turns out he was absent only because they don’t have a photograph of the 33-year-old former captain in the current Nike-sponsored England kit. There were blank spaces above the names of Michael Keane and Callum Wilson too, it transpired.

Gareth Southgate has defended the decision to bring Wayne Rooney back for one final cap

Gareth Southgate has defended the decision to bring Wayne Rooney back for one final cap

The 33-year-old former captain will take his final England bow against the USA in a friendly

The 33-year-old former captain will take his final England bow against the USA in a friendly

It meant Southgate still had to defend this ludicrous decision to recall Rooney to the England team, and to his credit he did so in much the same way he once defended the 18-yard line. He was calm and composed, very much in control.

But his performance was not without its flaws, the suggestion that a cheap cap for Rooney was no different to any player getting a few minutes in the latter stages of a friendly being one of them.

‘I played in games where we changed the whole team at half-time,’ he added.

For the players who have trained their tails off all week and then experienced the immense pride that must come with being told by the England manager you’re about to go on, that would seem harsh.

Southgate admits he has not even spoken to Rooney personally about the sentimental recall

Southgate admits he has not even spoken to Rooney personally about the sentimental recall

He might want to remember some of the players who actually benefited when Sven Goran Eriksson changed the entire team at half-time. It was in one such match, against Australia at Upton Park that Rooney made his international debut.

In fairness to Southgate, Eriksson did occasionally devalue the importance of friendlies with the sheer number of substitutions he would make. But there were times on Thursday when Southgate was in danger of sounding like someone who thinks these matches are pretty meaningless.

He did his best to avoid such accusations, and the selection of 28 players — including the aforementioned Wilson — certainly made it more difficult to suggest that Rooney was in ahead of a player more deserving of inclusion. Players like Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings might take a different view, of course.

With substitutions in international friendlies now limited to six, someone suggested Rooney would effectively be denying another player a cap when he comes on against the USA next week. And he will be. But with Croatia to follow three days later, Southgate says he intends to use every player available over the course of the two games.

Rooney has been in strong form for his club side DC United in MLS so far this season

Rooney has been in strong form for his club side DC United in MLS so far this season

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