Finally, Big Sam is in. It took an age for the Football Association to confirm the news but on Friday Sam Allardyce was unveiled as the new England manager.
Make no mistake the former Bolton, Blackburn, Newcastle, West Ham and Sunderland boss will want to put his own stamp on the team. Could that include taking the captaincy from Wayne Rooney?
He’s keeping his cards pretty close to his chest right now. Perhaps he hasn’t made up his mind, or maybe he has but is yet to select a successor, who knows?
This is all he had to say on the matter when asked at his press conference today: “No, it’s far too early [to say whether Wayne Rooney will be captain] or make any more predictions of that kind.”
And that’s your lot. I’m going to take it at face value and assume he hasn’t decided yet. Rooney took the armband after Steve Gerrard’s international retirement following the World Cup two years ago and until Euro 2016 it was a relatively successful stint, but then came another disappointing England showing at a major tournament and here we are.
My gut feeling is Allardyce could decide a change in captain is needed but Rooney might keep the honour for the first few games, starting with a World Cup qualifier in Slovakia in September. In the long-term, Big Sam will want a player with a settled role and place in the side as his skipper and at the moment I don’t think Rooney has that.
In some ways his own qualities have worked against him after he was slotted into a midfield role by former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal. Roy Hodgson went down a similar path with Rooney at England level and aside from the odd solid display it just never really looked like he was comfortable in his new position, at times in France this summer he went missing completely and you just cannot allow that to happen with a captain.
LVG wanted Rooney to evolve into that midfield role and Rooney himself said it was something he’d always thought may happen but the change in manager at Old Trafford has thrown that into doubt, if not completely out the window. Jose Mourinho has stressed he sees the former Everton man as a forward so if he does return to a more advanced role on a regular basis at club level it is pretty safe to assume he will do the same internationally.
And if that happens, will he be a regular starter for England? Will Allardyce select him ahead of the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Harry Kane, Danny Welbeck and Jamie Vardy? I’m not so sure. Allardyce will want to build a settled team, he’ll give people a chance that’s for sure but by the time the World Cup rolls around in two years he’ll have a rough idea of his best 11 and will a 32-year-old Rooney be a part of that? Only time will tell but Allardyce has to make his captaincy call before then and that may well be the deciding factor here.
So far the new Three Lions boss has probably played it about as well as he could have done. There’s no need to make any rash decisions or create any big headlines like ‘Big Sam strips Rooney of captaincy’ straight from the off, certainly not before he’s met with the group and spoken to the United man face-to-face for the first time in his new role.
As an aside, for anyone out there with any concerns over Allardyce’s abilities to handle players I’ll ease your mind right now. During his time as Bolton boss he got El Hadji Diouf performing on a consistent basis and working as an effective member of a team, the Senegalese forward was a notoriously difficult character and no one managed him as well as Big Sam. He may cite the fact Nicolas Anelka, Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Fernando Hierro played under him at Bolton as proof of his man-management skills but there can be no better example than Diouf.
And what if Rooney were stripped of the captaincy, would he continue playing for England? Only he knows the answer to that question but I suspect he would and if not, so what? We move on.