Caretaker manager Gareth Southgate insists Wayne Rooney has hit his stride again and is ready to lead England in a high-stakes World Cup qualifier against Scotland on Friday night.
Southgate dropped Rooney for last month’s trip to Slovenia – a goalless draw – while England’s record goalscorer struggled to relocate his form under new Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.
But the 31-year-old ended a 14-match drought for club and country with a rasping strike in United’s defeat at Fenerbahce last week and followed it up with a lively display in Sunday’s win at Swansea.
That was enough to persuade Southgate to restore Rooney to the starting line-up and captaincy for a match that is likely to determine whether the former Middlesbrough manager keeps his role beyond next week.
“He’s in a better place than he was for the last get-together in terms of his sharpness, his confidence,” said Southgate.
“I think experience in a game like this is important. With a team that has a lot of energy and potential you also need a lot of experience in there too.
“He is playing well. He has played well in his last couple of matches for Manchester United. He is a player who when he’s in a rhythm of playing that helps.”
An injury to Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli has helped to create an opening for Rooney, who despite his recent upturn has just two goals from 11 and a half hours of football this season.
A deep-lying forward role looks the more likely option for Rooney, with Southgate allaying concerns over striker Harry Kane by confirming he has a full squad from which to select.
This game is not about me, says Southgate
Southgate, meanwhile, enters the fixture amid uncertainty over his own future, having overseen two tepid qualifiers which gleaned four points since taking the reins in September.
“I’m really enjoying being in the role,” said the 46-year-old erstwhile England Under-21 coach.
“What happens to me is not important. We have to win this game for the country, and because we want to be top of the group and heading to Russia [the 2018 World Cup].
“What happens to me is important to my family, but other than that it isn’t the purpose of the game. My focus is on the match and I think it would irresponsible and unprofessional for it to be any other way.”
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, who succeeded Southgate at Boro seven years ago, is also under pressure to get a result amid speculation that defeat could lead to the end of his near-four-year tenure.
Strachan failed to steer Scotland to the 2014 World Cup or this year’s European Championships and has seen his team make a sluggish start to the current campaign.