In his last months at Manchester United Wayne Rooney no longer looked comfortable in his skin. He was stuck in a rut: not getting enough game time and then under pressure every time he took to the field.
Now, following a summer homecoming to Everton and a goalscoring start to the new season, Rooney looks reborn. The move seems to have given him renewed belief in himself and he is showing that, in his 16th season in the top flight, he has still got it.
He’s the leader of the pack again and his performances in the first two Premier League games of the season – including a goal in Monday’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City – have put England’s record scorer back in the international frame.
If I were Gareth Southgate, I would be tempted to recall Rooney when he names his squad on Thursday for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia.
Rooney deserves it. He is playing with freedom and getting into different areas, notably the penalty box – something we didn’t see much of in his final season at Old Trafford.
I think it would be good for him but also for England. The 31-year-old is in form, so that can only be good for Southgate’s team, and can provide leadership at a time when there isn’t an absolute leader in the side.
Change of position
Rooney has benefited from his role at Everton, which has seen him come from deep to arrive late in the box for both of his goals.
When you play that position you aren’t forced to out-sprint anybody; it’s about the timing of the run and getting into the right areas.
I’m a great believer that your international role should mirror what’s working well for you at club level. His renewed confidence means his touch is better and I’d like to see him given the same freedom if he is recalled to the England side.
Of the team that started the last competitive game, a 2-2 draw in Scotland in June, Adam Lallana is currently missing through injury and I don’t see anyone else forcing themselves into the squad so early in the season.
Watford’s Nathaniel Chalobah has been mentioned, but I don’t think he has been starting regularly enough in the top flight yet. He could be one for the next squad, in October, but, like Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater was, Chalobah has to be judged over a longer period.
I think this squad announcement is pretty critical for Rooney, though.
There’s no doubt in my mind that, having omitted him in May, Southgate had put Rooney out of his mind for the summer. But injuries and the lack of form of some players, such as Jermain Defoe, have forced a rethink.
Rooney will have had half an eye on this squad announcement in the hope of forcing his way back in and I think he’ll be disappointed if he is not included.
It would send out a message that his England career could be over and, in that case, I think he would redouble his efforts to enjoy his last seasons with Everton.
But I think if he was to get back in that it would rejuvenate him further and also benefit England.
Rooney probably doesn’t have an international future beyond next summer’s World Cup but, based on what we have seen already this campaign, he still merits one for the time being.