The booking handed out to Rooney rules him out of the game with Switzerland on June 3, and in turn puts more emphasis on the forthcoming friendly with Ghana at Wembley this week. No longer a time-consuming run-out for Capello’s side, the Italian Coach now must use the opportunity to examine the options to replace Rooney when competitive action resumes in the summer. Finding a like-for-like alternative for the Manchester United forward is always difficult since, at his best, Rooney is among the elite players in world football, but the tactical system England employed against Wales that worked so well complicates matters further.
Instead of starting as a genuine striker, Rooney played a nominal left-wing role but with the licence to cut inside and support Darren Bent. Ashley Young did much the same on the right, albeit with more of the traditional winger about him than Rooney, and the Aston Villa man may be the most natural replacement to the role Rooney took on against Gary Speed’s side. Young switching flanks and being replaced by a right-winger – possibly Theo Walcott, if the Arsenal man regains fitness – may be the logical change for Capello, if he retains the fluid attacking trident that so beguiled Wales.
A change in system is also possible, with Andy Carroll beginning his slow return to action with Liverpool. By June, and barring the recurrence of an injury, Carroll should have a solid two months of competition behind him to build on the encouraging start he made in an England shirt against France last November, and his recovery may be boosted by an appearance against England’s African opponents in midweek. The battling Carroll is a different option altogether from Rooney and would necessitate a new formation against Ghana, perhaps teaming Carroll and Bent with Young given free reign behind the front pair, a role the tricky Aston Villa player should slip into with ease.
Capello can still call on Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe, the Tottenham Hotspur pair, but both would demand also a change in formation and each has undergone extensive barren periods this season – Crouch has scored just twice since November while Defoe’s goals have come sporadically, braces against FC Twente, Charlton Athletic and Wolverhampton Wanderers and a hat-trick against Bulgaria, but little in between. Nevertheless, with thin striking options Capello has to explore every possibility and use every chance to do so he can. With the buoyancy of victory over Wales potentially propelling England on Tuesday, the time is right to look ahead to June without Rooney.