Wayne Rooney hopes to be England’s key player at the World Cup, but he also knows a slump in form could see coach Fabio Capello drop him without hesitation.
Rooney only has to reflect on how Manchester United strike partner Michael Owen has fallen out of favour despite once being one of the first names on the England team sheet under Capello’s predecessors.
“He’s probably the first England manager I have played under where you know if you don’t play well there’s a chance you are not going to be in the starting XI the next game,” Rooney told reporters. “He keeps all the players on their toes. We know we have to play well every game. He’s definitely helped me more than any other England manager.
“He is a fearsome man, strong, passionate and wants to win.”
Rooney produced the goals last season to prove his worth to Capello’s World Cup 2010 plans, scoring 10 times - the highest season total for an England player since Gary Lineker in 1990-91.
“(Capello) said to me get in front of the goal more,” Rooney said ahead of Saturday’s friendly against Slovenia. “He is on the training pitch all the time helping me and telling me to do certain things. Sometimes you will watch the video back and watch different games and analyze them.
“Even in training you could be on the video later on for mistakes so you always have to be on top of your game.”
Rooney is at his best when deployed in a central role, rather than being shunted out to the left wing by Capello or Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
“Sir Alex and Fabio have both tried to get me to play further up the pitch and get in better positions to score more goals,” he said. “I agree that I needed to be more clinical. There was a stage when I was playing too deep and not in the box enough to get into goal-scoring positions.”
Rooney accepts he has to curtail his own instincts to track back and chase after the ball.
“I have been shouted at a few times for doing that too much,” he said. “I have tried to cut that out a bit. I try and get on the ball more in the opposition half rather our own half.
“I am more of a threat in the box rather than outside the box. I am giving myself a better chance of scoring by getting in more dangerous positions.”
Rooney has a point to prove at next June’s World Cup after making a late entry into the 2006 tournament due to a broken foot and then being sent off when England was eliminated at the quarterfinal stage by Portugal.
“If I can stay fit going into the World Cup, I will be able to influence it the way I want to,” he said.
“I hope I can be the main man. I am probably playing the best football I have played for England over the last year and I am really enjoying myself with United. Hopefully that will continue and both will benefit.”
Coping with the weight of expectation won’t be a problem.
“I started playing when I was 16 and there has been an expectation and pressure ever since. I have no problem with that. I see it as a challenge,” said Rooney, who started his career at Everton.
The immediate focus for Rooney, though, is ensuring England qualifies for South Africa 2010. England’s passage to the finals can be secured on Wednesday by making it eight wins out of eight in Group 6 with a victory over Croatia. Before then, there is the friendly against Slovenia at Wembley on Saturday.