The Manchester United forward, whose flexibility allows him to be fielded in a variety of positions, is on paper England’s best player, but finding his most effective position is proving to be a hard task.
With England’s formation reliant on its wide men to get back and help out the full-backs, Rooney’s attacking tendencies left Leighton Baines exposed to a talented Italian side on Saturday in Group D’s World Cup opener, leading to the Azzurri getting themselves off to a winning start.
England started like a freight train, with two excellent efforts from long-range coming close to breaking the deadlock.
However, as the half wore on, the quality in the Italian ranks told, as England chased shadows for much of the opening period, with Rooney, England’s talisman and leading light, struggling to get involved.
Possession is key in picking an organized unit apart, and England just couldn’t keep hold of the ball, with key players starved of the ball where they needed it the most, with Rooney in particular a mere spectator.
Dangerman Raheem Sterling, who burst into life early on with one of those thunderous efforts on goal, had only 23 touches in the first half, with Rooney making just 20, albeit one of those being an assist.
Danny Welbeck was the Three Lions’ busiest attacking player, touching the ball 38 times, and completing one successful dribble.
However, this is all stark contrast to the Azzurri’s goal-scorer Claudio Marchisio, who managed to get on the ball 39 times in the opening period alone.
After the break, a switch in positions failed to bare any fruit, and didn’t solve the defensive frailties down the left flank.
Sure enough, Antonio Candreva had the time and space to cut inside, and deliver a perfect cross for Mario Balotelli to give the Italians the lead once more.
Rooney only managed a further 22 touches, and his 76th minute corner, which didn’t even make it into play, summed up his night.
It simply comes down to a straight choice between Rooney and prolific Liverpool front man Daniel Sturridge to play in the No. 9 role.
Rooney’s body language exuded a man who was not comfortable out wide, and he has said himself in the past that his best position is through the middle.
And the choice between Sturridge, who notched 21 Premier League goals in just 26 starts, or a man who has now gone 674 minutes without a goal at the World Cup, is one Hodgson, who has been reluctant to leave Rooney out previously, may just have to take.