Wayne Rooney must 'battle' for England return - Gareth Southgate
Wayne Rooney's hopes of leading England to the 2018 World Cup are in doubt after manager Gareth Southgate warned his place in the squad, as well as his captaincy, were no longer guaranteed.
Southgate left Rooney, 31, out of an expanded, and much-changed, 26-man squad to face Germany and Lithuania, despite admitting he could be fit enough to play for Manchester United this weekend.
Rooney has been struggling with a knee injury but regardless of his fitness, Southgate said he has concerns over the forward's lack of game-time at Old Trafford, with just one Premier League start in 2017.
Southgate made the bold call to drop the country's record goal scorer, and captain since 2014, while still in interim charge against Slovenia and has now suggested his involvement will be decided on a game-by-game basis.
"We have this thing about 'an England captain' but really the captain is the person that is captain in the next game, isn't it?" Southgate said. "I've talked with Wayne and I think there's a chance he's fit for the weekend, but the injury, coupled with the fact he's not had a lot of game time recently and others have, determined my decision.
"Always the danger in any sport with naming a 'captain' is selection. We have to look at Wayne as a No. 10, which is his predominant role. In the last two games we've played Dele [Alli] there and we've played Adam Lallana there. Ross Barkley has been playing very well for his club.
"So there's competition. I can't dress that up any other way. There are some very good players and it's a battle to get in this squad.
"Wayne totally understands that. He's the most realistic senior player I think I've dealt with in terms of how he views the game. He doesn't have any expectations of being treated differently or treated in a special way."
Southgate, though, did select Rooney's United teammate Luke Shaw, despite the left-back playing only twice since the turn of the year.
"Luke is the one that is short of that game time at the moment but it will hopefully boost how he feels about himself and I am sure there will be an opportunity for him to get on the field as well," Southgate said. "We are conscious of that slightly muddying the message we have given more generally, but I wanted to let him know what we were thinking."
He also made the call to leave out Arsenal forward Theo Walcott, who has scored eight goals in the Premier League this season.
"I've got to say he wasn't chuffed to bits to get the call this morning and I understand that," Southgate said. "Quite rightly, he said: 'I'm one of the leading goal scorers in the league.'
"I don't mind being challenged on that at all. I totally respect that. I don't expect him to be happy, but I've got to make decisions and I think it was the right thing to call him to talk that through, even though the timing probably wasn't great.
"He's a player I still like. I've said to him I'm not ruling out, but in terms of just having him as a squad player, I think it's a better opportunity for me to look at one or two others and see what they can do."