England manager Gareth Southgate has defended his choice to include former Manchester United and Everton star Wayne Rooney in his latest squad, insisting the striker deserves a fitting tribute.
Rooney, England's all time leading goalscorer, announced his international retirement in August 2017. However, he is now set for a return to the squad for the upcoming friendly with the USA, which is set to help raise money for his new charity, the Wayne Rooney Foundation.
Speaking ahead of Thursday's match, Southgate admitted he was surprised at the criticism of his decision, noting that Germany's similar tribute to Lukas Podolski in 2017 was fantastic.
He is quoted by The Guardian as saying: “It’s a shame because we want it to be a fitting tribute to an outstanding player who has often, I think, been undervalued in terms of how well he played for England.
“That’s a disappointment. But hopefully by the time we get to the game, and him being with us next week, the focus will be on: ‘Actually, let’s think about what he did and how well he played, and there’s an opportunity here to thank him for that.’ And then afterwards we can decide whether playing him was the right thing or wasn’t the right thing.
“I understand the debate around that. I thought the Podolski situation was a super night. If I had been a player, and had given what those guys had given, I’d have walked away from there feeling my association have really recognised me in a fitting way.
“We are a strange country in that we bemoan the fact we haven’t achieved as much as we’d like and then we have a player who should be held in the highest regard and we are spending a lot of time justifying giving him that tribute.”
Southgate also confirmed that Rooney will be a substitute during the match, and will not be given either the captain's armband or his usual shirt number. The manager is keen to ensure that Rooney's inclusion does not obstruct those in the squad who remain eligible for international selection, such as Bournemouth's Callum Wilson, who is set to receive his first cap for England.