LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - England captain Wayne Rooney accepts he is no longer first-choice for club or country after being dropped by interim manager Gareth Southgate for Tuesday’s World Cup Group F qualifier in Slovenia for tactical reasons.
In what some see as a bold move to leave out the skipper, Southgate on Monday handed the armband to Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson while holding midfielder Eric Dier replaces Manchester United stalwart Rooney who will start from the bench.
Rooney, sitting alongside Southgate in a news conference, said he was in a “difficult period”.
”It’s football. He has got 23 players to select from. I’ve played 13 years non-stop for England and given everything and the time comes when you are not the first name on the team sheet,“ Rooney said. ”It is a chance for other players.
“Of course, you want to be on the pitch but my role as captain won’t change off the pitch. I will be supporting the players 100 percent, and hopefully we can get the win.”
Southgate stressed the decision was nothing to do with Rooney’s struggle for form.
“It’s very straightforward really, we have looked at Slovenia and the way they play and from midway through last week I had in mind the profile of the midfield that I wanted to play and what was needed for this game,” Southgate said.
“In no way is it a reflection on Wayne’s performance on Saturday (against Malta), in fact we were very pleased with what he did.”
Rooney, who turns 31 later this month, was booed by a minority of home fans late on in the 2-0 victory over Malta at Wembley that left England top of their group with two wins.
England’s most capped outfield player, with 117 appearances, and all-time top scorer has struggled for form recently and has been a substitute in United’s last three games.
He has scored just once in 12 matches this season and has netted only one goal in the last seven internationals.
Southgate, who took over on an interim basis when Sam Allardyce’s 67-day reign as England boss ended after he was caught up in a newspaper sting, said Henderson had proved as Liverpool captain that he was ready to lead his country.
Rooney also praised Henderson’s credentials.
”I think Jordan is a fantastic leader,“ he said. ”He has taken a difficult job from (former captain) Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and grown into the position.
“He has great leadership qualities and he deserves his chance.”
Southgate said Rooney would remain captain for as long as he was England coach - having been handed the job on an interim basis for four matches - adding that it had been a “hard decision” to leave such a high-profile player out.
“It is a football decision. It’s based on the opposition. On a human level it’s a very difficult decision because I don’t like some people getting an element of satisfaction that he’s not in the team,” Southgate said.
“I am probably more annoyed on that than he is because he has had to deal with that throughout his career.”
While Rooney has been used in a deeper role for England, Tottenham Hotspur’s Dier is a natural holding midfielder.
“I think it’s clear that you are talking about two different profiles of player. Different attributes,” Southgate said.
“That’s the basis of the decision. It was pretty obvious that Eric would come into the game.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman in London; Editing by Ken Ferris