SportSoccer

England manager makes lavish claim over Rooney

Rooney gets the backing of boss Southgate
Rooney gets the backing of boss Southgate

Gareth Southgate believes England captain Wayne Rooney is turning the corner and is primed to prove that "class is permanent" against Scotland in Friday's World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

The 31-year-old has had to deal with unparalleled level of scrutiny this season, as well spending much of the last seven weeks on Manchester United's bench.

What Rooney admitted was a "difficult period" transferred to international level, with Southgate taking the bold decision to drop the country's all-time top scorer in Slovenia, just days after being booed by pockets of the Wembley crowd.

Perhaps due to rest, reflection or shock, he has shown signs of life in United's recent matches and Southgate has confirmed the forward will start Friday's mouth-watering qualifier against Scotland.

"I think he will play well," the interim manager said. "He doesn't have anything to prove to me.

"The whole basis of our conversation around that game wasn't about my belief in him as a player. I made a decision that I thought was right for that game.

"But I think he is a big-game player with big-match experience and I think a night like tomorrow is perfect for him."

Rooney's 119th cap follows last week exceptionally ending an 81-day goal drought at Fenerbahce, before putting in a thoroughly impressive display as Swansea were beaten 3-1 on Sunday.

It was Rooney's first league start since performing so badly at Watford on September 18 and Southgate has seen a visible change in his skipper.

"He wasn't in a flow of playing," the interim boss said. "He has had more matches since. He had two 90 minutes last week, scored and had two assists.

"To my mind, even in his training, he looks freer in his mind and I think that is a key to people being able to perform, really."

Put to Southgate that something appeared to have changed in Rooney at Swansea, he said: "I don't know but I think class is permanent, isn't it?

"Look, we all have moments as players where you have runs of games and part of being a top professional for years is that you have to grind the difficult moments out.

"There's matches and periods where you know you are not at your best and they're games you have to grind out and play your part for the team.

"And then there's other moments where you start to get into a flow and everything is happening more naturally.

"To me, he looks like he is just heading into that period, which is great for us."

Rooney and Jordan Henderson were the only players Southgate was willing to confirm would start the "very, very special" match against Scotland.

It will be 113th meeting of the sides and a match that offers England's temporary manager the chance to underline his merits for the permanent position, having taken temporary charge following Sam Allardyce's abrupt departure.