London: England manager Gareth Southgate has defended Wayne Rooney after the veteran forward was booed by English fans during their 2-0 win over Malta in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli scored for England during the first half at the Wembley Stadium here on Saturday evening as England laboured to a hard-earned win over a side many among the 82,000-strong home crowd had perhaps imagined would be easy meat.
Rooney was employed in a midfield role by Southgate where the Manchester United star struggled to impress and was booed by several England fans.
“If you look at the number of games and his (Rooney) goalscoring feats for England, I don’t quite understand that (booing). The criticism of him is, at times, unfair,” Southgate told the local media after the match.
“He ploughs on and plays with pride and captains his country with pride. I always look back to the Terrys, the Lampards, the Ashley Coles… in their time with England they took an enormous amount of criticism, but, if you look at their caps, they kept turning out putting themselves on the line.”
“Others have not put themselves forward and withdrawn from squads when the going has got tough. Those guys put their neck on the block and played for their country again and again,” he added.
Southgate, who is acting as the interim manager for the England team, urged the fans to show more support for Rooney as the 30-year-old struggles to re-capture his old form and asserted that the lack of support will make the going tougher for him.
“I presented him with a cap in the week for being the record cap holder with his country. It’s fascinating to get an insight into his world over the last 10 days. Every debate focuses on him. The onus on him is enormous,” Southgate said.
“I don’t understand (the booing). But that seems to be the landscape. I have no idea how that is expected to help him,” he added.
On Saturday, Southgate’s selection of Rooney in a midfield role was in direct contrast to Manchester United manager José Mourinho’s insistence that the England captain is more useful as a forward.
But the England interim manager asserted that Rooney’s role in the midfield is more suited to the national team’s set-up.
“Look, José will have his opinion on what’s right for his team. I had to pick a team to get a result today. Wayne’s experience and his leadership have been crucial throughout this week, not just today,” he said.
“I wanted to get Dele Alli higher up the pitch as a link between midfield and the forwards. He got his goal and was disappointed not to get a second, for sure. That team and system suited us today.
“Between Wayne and Jordan Henderson their job was to control that area of the field. To link between the lines. When you look back at the Slovakia game, there were times when that link wasn’t there. We felt it was important today, and Dele as a No10 helped that, as well as Jesse Lingard coming in off the line,” Southgate added.
“They were there to control the game, and make sure we didn’t get caught on the counter. We knew we’d have a lot of the ball. It was a game where we’d dictate the tempo.”