IT PROVIDES some illustration of the intensity of a World Cup when England can base themselves inside a fort and still discover they are at the centre of a story that is being described as a “spying storm”.
Security certainly looked especially tight yesterday at their Rio de Janeiro training camp, which as well as being scenic, was supposed to provide the team with all the privacy required.
The Football Association had thought they had covered all the angles, literally, having even done some reconnaissance work on the nearby Sugarloaf mountain to check there were no obvious vantage points for potential snoops to utilise.
In a city where the geology provides much scope for gaining good views from dramatic rock intrusions, and where the main tourist attraction itself gazes down from a plinth on the highest peak, a story has surfaced that proves how you can never be too careful.
The pitch here at the military fort in Urca, a wealthy neighbourhood skirting the edge of the sea to the north of Copacabana beach, has been described as perhaps the most beautifully located in the world – with Sugarloaf mountain behind one goal, the old fort, which dates to the 17th century, behind another, and the Gaunabara Bay stretching into the distance, it’s hard to disagree.
However, there was some trouble in paradise earlier this week when it was revealed that Rooney had been training away from the other nine outfield first-team players from Saturday night’s defeat to Italy, and, indeed, had been the only one to stay on longer for an extra session.
Some wondered whether this had been on Roy Hodgson’s specific orders, with Rooney having been the target for criticism after his fitful performance on the wing in Manaus, or whether this was in fact further evidence on which to base speculation that he is line to be dropped for tomorrow’s must-win Group D clash with Uruguay in Sao Paulo.
It was unclear how the story emerged; whether someone had lingered on a bit longer than they had meant to after the ‘public’ part of England’s training session on Monday, or whether the English FA’s preparatory work had overlooked a potential spy hole on the nearby mountain, from where glass-walled cable cars regularly descend in any case.
Whoever the source, Rooney was quick to blame the press, posting a message on his official Facebook site where he confirmed the extra work he put in was his own choice.
“Sometimes wonder what the press are getting at,” he wrote. “I said from the start I want to do everything I can to make sure I’m ready for these World Cup games and as part of that I was doing extra training a week before the squad joined up.
“That’s exactly what I did yesterday, my own extra training because that’s what I wanted to do.”
Frank Lampard is experienced enough to know what subject would form the main topic of conversation yesterday; something the midfielder wearily described as a “furore”.
He also remarked that Rooney is simply the latest player to find himself being cast as the pet obsession of the English media during the finals of a major tournament. In this respect, Rooney is following in the footsteps of those such as David Beckham and Michael Owen. Indeed, it is a proud, or should that be-not-so- proud, tradition stretching back to Italia 90, when Paul Gascoigne was cast as the cause celebre.
In the context of Gazza, the mania was rooted mostly in love for someone who had shown up so well against the world’s greatest players, while also parading an endearing vulnerability.
In the case of Rooney, it is possible to sense some impatience, and, indeed, some anger from those who follow England at the player’s consistent failure to be the star of the world stage that he has occasionally threatened to become.
Lampard suggested it was an English media obsession but there are ex-players, among them Rooney’s former teammate Paul Scholes, who have added more than their tuppence worth.
And Rooney was the name on the tongue of media from most of the countries represented yesterday, at England’s training base.
Lampard, in response, was strong in his defence of someone he said it was now clear people had an agenda against.
“I’ve got to be honest if you are a human being, no matter how tough you are, if every time you read a paper or look at the TV and there are people debating his position – I don’t see how that can be a positive,” said Lampard.
The England vice-captain, who did not play against Italy, was sent out by the England PR team to provide the calm voice of reason, as well as act as a chaperone to Raheem Sterling, who is the current player exciting the England supporters and media in a way similar to Gascoigne 24 years ago, and who also defended Rooney yesterday.
“He is a world-class player,” said the 19 year-old, who could be set to return to his more natural wing position tomorrow, leaving Rooney free to occupy his more favoured central role.
“I watched him growing up,” added Sterling. “He is someone I looked up to so to have trained with him at this camp has been a real honour, really.
“He works really hard and is always improving as well, so for someone like that for me to look up to I am really glad to have him in the team.” Lampard asked for people to refrain from continually over-analysing Rooney’s contribution. “If you want people to do well I don’t see how you can keep focusing on one player rather than the team and say that might not be detrimental no matter what the ability of the player – whether it’s Messi or Neymar or whoever,” he said.
“You are making something so huge. It’s been coming over [for] a couple of weeks. It doesn’t help.”
Lampard accepted it was not just reporters and supporters, but also former players. “The column inches will carry on going on about Wayne until Wayne probably pops up with a goal, that is probably the way of the world,” he said. “It’s slightly frustrating when we are a group trying to do well.
“Players like Raheem are coming through and doing very well and we are slightly over-fixated on one player who has been our best player, our top goalscorer in qualifying and will break the England goalscoring record.
“We are putting a lot of negative stuff on him, that’s how I see it.”
It’s hard to imagine Rooney being cowed by anything, and Lampard revealed the player was his same old self in the camp – strapping up the team masseur Paul Smart yesterday, and volleying balls at him to mark his 50th birthday. If he plays tomorrow, Rooney will need to ensure he does something to ensure others are not lining up to take pot shots at him, again.