Featured Matches
Previous
Real Salt Lake
Montreal Impact
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
AC Milan
Olympiakos
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Vélez Sarsfield
Estudiantes de Caseros
10:15 PM GMT
Game Details
FC Groningen
Aberdeen
1
2
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 2
Game Details
Sligo
Rosenborg
1
3
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 4
Game Details
Stjarnan
Motherwell
7:15 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 2
Game Details
Shakhter Karagandy
FK Atlantas
3
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 0
Game Details
Shakhter Karagandy
FK Atlantas
3
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 0
Game Details
Hapoel Be'er Sheva
RNK Split
0
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 2
Game Details
MyPa
Dinamo Minsk
0
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 3
Game Details
Omonia Nicosia
FK Buducnost Podgorica
0
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 0
Game Details
Haugesund
FK Sarajevo
1
3
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 3
Game Details
Kuban Krasnodar
Sillamae Kalev
5
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 9 - 0
Game Details
Inter Baku
Elfsborg
(3) 0
(4) 1
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 1
Game Details
IFK Goteborg
Györi ETO FC
0
1
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 1
Game Details
Lech Poznan
Kalju
3
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 1
Game Details
Liberec
MFK Kosice
3
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 4 - 0
Game Details
Tromso
Víkingur Gøta
1
2
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 2
Game Details
KS Flamurtari Vlorë
Petrolul Ploiesti
1
3
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 5
Game Details
SV Grödig Amateure
Cukaricki Belgrade
1
2
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 5 - 2
Game Details
Chikhura Sachkhere
Bursaspor
(4) 0
(1) 0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 0
Game Details
AIK Solna
Linfield
2
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 1
Game Details
Zimbru Chisinau
CSKA Sofia
0
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 1
Game Details
Shakhter Soligorsk
Derry City
5
1
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 6 - 1
Game Details
FC Vaduz
Ruch Chorzow
0
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 3
Game Details
Esbjerg FB
Kairat Almaty
1
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 1
Game Details
FC Spartak Trnava
FC Zestafoni
3
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 0
Game Details
FC Groningen
Aberdeen
1
2
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 2
Game Details
FC Zorya Luhansk
Laci
2
1
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 5 - 1
Game Details
Hapoel Tel Aviv
Astana 1964
1
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 3
Game Details
Sligo
Rosenborg
1
3
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 4
Game Details
Zawisa Bydgoszcz
S.V. Zulte Waregem
1
3
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 5
Game Details
Vojvodina
AS Trencin
3
0
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 4
Game Details
Asteras Tripolis
RoPS
4
2
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 5 - 3
Game Details
Hajduk Split
Dundalk
1
2
FT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 3 - 2
Game Details
ND Gorica
Molde
6:30 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 4
Game Details
Jagodina
CFR Cluj-Napoca
6:30 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 0
Game Details
NK Koper
Neftchi Baku PFC
6:30 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 1
Game Details
Ferencvaros
Rijeka
6:30 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 1
Game Details
Siroki Brijeg
Mlada Boleslav
6:30 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 2
Game Details
Diosgyor VTK
PFC Litex Lovech
6:30 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 0
Game Details
Crusaders
Brommapojkarna
6:45 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 4
Game Details
St Johnstone
FC Luzern
6:45 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 0
Game Details
St. Pölten
Botev Plovdiv
7:05 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 2
Game Details
FH Hafnarfjordur
Neman Grodno
7:15 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 0 - 0
Game Details
Stjarnan
Motherwell
7:15 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 2 - 2
Game Details
Real Salt Lake
Montreal Impact
2:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Vélez Sarsfield
Estudiantes de Caseros
10:15 PM GMT
Game Details
Sport
Paysandu SC
10:30 PM GMT
Leg 2. Aggregate: 1 - 2
Game Details
AC Milan
Olympiakos
12:00 AM GMT
Game Details
Next

Marcotti: A tournament to remember

World Cup Jul 14, 2014
Read

Marcotti: Deschamps manages expectations

France Jun 25, 2014
Read
 Posted by Gabriele Marcotti
Jun 19, 2014

Obsession with Rooney is madness

ESPN FC's Craig Burley speaks to the point that Wayne Rooney may not be England's best attacking option.

Two days before Valentine's Day 2003, Wayne Rooney made his debut for England (a 3-1 home defeat to Australia). The fact that 11 years and four months later there is still a raging Rooney debate is, frankly, extraordinary.

If you don't know him by now, you will never, never, never know him.

Against Italy he Iined up wide left in a 4-2-3-1, a role he filled occasionally at Manchester United a few years back. Ordinarily he plays behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 or as a second striker in a 4-4-2. Sometimes he's a lone centre-forward in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. And sometimes both David Moyes and Sir Alex Ferguson played him in midfield.

You would think this versatility would be something to be treasured. After all, Rooney's had a pretty good career. He's third on United's all-time goal-scoring chart and, barring something unforeseen, should break Sir Bobby Charlton's record before his 31st birthday (he needs another 33; he's 28 and he notched 35 in the past two seasons). He should break into United's top 10 for appearances next year and, if he gets another 10 international goals -- not unreasonable, given his age -- he'll be the top scorer in the history of the England national team. He has also won a boatload of trophies for United, though I suppose folks are less impressed with that because United tend to win regularly.

Yet England -- the nation, not the team -- seems to have what his teammate Frank Lampard calls a "Rooney fixation." Today's headlines are all about how he'll play in the hole rather than out wide. Earlier it was about how he appeared to miss a warm-down session after training (in reality, he had gone to do extra work on his own). Prior to that, they had a serious-to-God disquisition over whether he ought to be dropped.

Would Adam Lallana or Ross Barkley really be a better option than a player of Wayne Rooney's ilk?

And note, when we say "dropped" we don't mean "dropped for Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Lionel Messi or even Ezequiel Lavezzi": dropped for Adam Lallana, who is 26 and won his first cap in November, or Ross Barkley, who is 20 and spent most of last year on loan in the lower leagues.

(Note that when the fixation isn't on Rooney, it's on his wife, Coleen. The big story this week had to do with the number of pieces of luggage she took to Brazil for herself and her two boys, aged 4 and 1.)

The cycle of build-destroy-build-destroy in the media, particularly in England, is a familiar one. Yet with Rooney it seems to reach extreme proportions that befuddle many in the rest of the world. The only reason you would consider dropping him is if you had reliable, top-drawer alternatives -- Barkley and Lallana certainly don't fall in that category yet, not to mention the fact that they're different players and therefore not real alternatives -- or if Rooney were unfit or horrible. He was neither in the opener against Italy. In fact, he delivered a picture-perfect cross for England's goal in a two against four situation. And he did it with his weaker foot.

The knock on him is that he doesn't work hard enough defensively and tends to get lost tactically. England did get burned down the left flank, though that may have something to do with left-back Leighton Baines' skill set, which is skewed towards attacking. (Strangely though, as part of the "new England," the Everton man seems immune from criticism.) As for Rooney's tactical discipline, it's always tough to tell from the outside, given that you're not privy to the individual instructions players are given. From what I can tell, he's no Dirk Kuyt defensively, but he's also generally busy, aggressive and strong, all pretty good attributes to have.

In some contexts, having a tactically disciplined, consistent "defensive forward" a la Kuyt or Park Ji-sung is essential. In others, less so. The way England played against Italy, with two deep-lying midfielders in front of the back four, it appears to be less of a priority. Rather than having forwards winded from chasing down opposing full-backs (and ending up with cramps, as happened to more than one England player), sometimes you're better off having them do less tracking, giving up the overlap and keeping them fresh for when you regain possession.

“The cycle of build-destroy in the media is a familiar one. Yet with Rooney it seems to reach extreme proportions that befuddle many in the rest of the world.”

Tactics are often essentially a series of trade-offs. Rooney represents one such trade-off; the question is whether what he does bring is worth it. He scored 17 league goals last year, which is one fewer than his linemates, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck, combined. He had, by his standards, a bad season and scored five fewer goals than Daniel Sturridge, who had his best-ever season on a far better (and more prolific) team. How this is even a debate is hard to understand. Particularly since Roy Hodgson, the England coach, has shown no appetite or intention to actually drop him. All he did was try him in a different role and then switch him back to his original one, in the hole.

Sometimes you get the sense that public opinion somehow begrudges Rooney because, after his blistering debut, he merely became very good, rather than turning into the "White Pele." Or that, having thoroughly embraced Hodgson's "new England" -- so much so that the defeat against Italy in the opener was greeted with shrugged shoulders and cries of "but weren't we positive and attack-minded? Didn't we have a go? Wasn't that great?" -- and being genetically predisposed to necessarily crucify someone after a loss, they opted to pick on a relic of the "old England". (This time it was Rooney, maybe next time it will be Steven Gerrard or Glen Johnson.)

Rooney may not have fulfilled a nation's dreams (yet). He's not England's best player and he's almost certainly not even their best striker right now (though the guy who is -- Sturridge -- has had a tendency to be selfish and streaky over the years). But he remains a guy who can be a difference-maker on the pitch, something he has proved time and again. (And proved against Italy with that cross.) To think of ditching him now simply because he's not part of Hodgson's "New England" is silly. As is obsessing endlessly over his best position.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.