Rooney can be England's Pele this time, says Hodgson
When Rooney exploded onto the scene at Euro 2004 Sven Goran Eriksson, then the England manager, said: "He could be your Pele."
That prediction has not quite worked out. With 38 England goals Rooney is on course to eclipse Sir Bobby Charlton's record 49, but on the big stages he has not delivered. In 2006 he was carrying an injury; in 2010 personal issues, and the effects of injury, combined to diminish his impact. Nor have the European Championships been any better. England failed to qualify in 2008 while in 2012, under Hodgson, Rooney was suspended for the first two matches and lacked fitness when he did play.
This summer could be different. "There is a lot of common sense in the theory that Wayne's past disappointments could work in England's favour," said Hodgson, "but who knows really? The bottom line is the only person who can do something about those disappointments is Wayne Rooney. I don't think we're going into this tournament with anything to fear, in terms of Wayne's (a) commitment, (b) fitness, (c) desire.
"It's a better situation than in 2012, when he was disappointed and frustrated that he couldn't play the first two games. And I'd like to think the squad we've picked is a very good one, with lots of exciting players who he could benefit from having around him. He won't have to shoulder the total burden of goalscoring and goal-making, that he has at previous tournaments.
"There are plenty of players out there for us who can score or make a goal, so if I was Wayne Rooney I'd be thinking: 'This is looking good, I've got good players around me, this is a great opportunity for me'.
"He knows the expectations. He knows how much everyone who writes about, watches or discusses English football demands of him. I'm confident he'll give us the best he's got. And as a football coach you can't ever ask for more than that. You can only hope your attempts to prepare him mean when he gets on the field he'll feel 'right, I'm Wayne Rooney, I feel good, I'm going to play, I'm going to do the things that made people build me up so high'."
Not that Hodgson shares the view that Rooney (right) has something to prove. "Football players carry baggage around that sometimes other people have given them. It gets suggested 'he was a disaster in this or that tournament', but I refuse to go along with that baggage because I haven't given it to him. The only thing I would dare talk about Wayne with regard to tournaments is 2012. And there he tried very hard. You could argue he wanted it too badly. And he was very hampered by the fact he missed the first two games. This time I'm going to see a totally different person, hopefully the person who burst onto the scene in 2004. He's only 28 years of age. He's in the best age of his football career. If he was terrific in 2004, he should be even better now."
Rooney is in Portugal, working on his conditioning, and will be joined tomorrow by the rest of Hodgson's squad for a week of light training and more technical preparation.
Hodgson is wary of over-training, as happened under Fabio Capello before the 2010 World Cup, but has abandoned his plan to make this week one of rest and recreation. The families have been left at home. The players will be given individual training programmes depending on their workload during the season and current fitness. They will be divided into units (goalkeepers, defence, midfield, attack) and taken through the tactical demands for Brazil in meetings rather than on the training pitch. "When we work, we work at high intensity and have high levels of expectations and performance," said Hodgson. "We don't say: 'That didn't go very well, who cares?'"