Joker only ready to be played after group stage

YESTERDAY’S decision is a huge positive for England but it will not change the mindset of manager Fabio Capello one bit, which will be to tackle the Euro 2012 group stage without Wayne Rooney.

By the time Rooney’s two-match suspension has elapsed, England could be as good as out of the tournament, if fixtures against France and Sweden do not go according to plan.

Having the striker back for the final group game against Ukraine will count for little if England have lost both of those vital preceding matches against difficult opposition.

Rooney, who will not have played a competitive fixture for a month, will be lacking fitness and sharpness, so cannot be relied upon to be a matchwinner in that clash.

Unless England have taken maximum points and there is less at stake, I would expect him to start on the substitutes’ bench against Ukraine.

For these reasons Rooney must be regarded as the joker in Capello’s pack, an extra ingredient to be added to the mix should they reach the knock-out stages. From then on he is a certain starter, just as he was always sure to be in the final squad.

Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played in two World Cups. He now works as a media commentator.