Mark McGhee believes that even a half-fit Wayne Rooney could pose a problem for Scotland as the countdown to tomorrow night’s so-called friendly clash with England intensifies.
The Scotland assistant manager was responding to the news that Manchester United manager David Moyes is happy for the unsettled player to continue his rehabilitation from injury in an England shirt.
“You don’t think I am going to send England a fit player do you?” Moyes impishly replied after the Community shield victory over Wigan Athletic on Sunday, which Rooney missed due to a shoulder injury. Rooney trained with England yesterday and looks set to feature in some part of tomorrow’s match, as speculation continues over his future at Old Trafford after repeat efforts by Chelsea to prise him from the English champions. The focus south of the Border remains trained on Rooney rather than the return of an international fixture that has not been played since 1999.
“Wayne Rooney is one of my favourite players anywhere,” said McGhee yesterday. “He is a fantastic player and if he steps out on that pitch, he will want to prove to all sorts of people that he is the player that we all think he is. That is a danger.
“If all we are interested in is getting a result then I hope Wayne Rooney doesn’t play as he will make them a better team. If he does play and we beat them then it will make it all the sweeter.
“The focus on Wayne Rooney isn’t necessarily because of the game,” conceded McGhee. “It is because of what has happened with Wayne Rooney and the debate over whether does he stay [at Manchester United] or go. It comes at a time when we happen to be playing England. I don’t know that that is important to us. The most important thing is we prepare ourselves to play against Wayne Rooney.”
England manager Roy Hodgson, while not confirming whether Rooney would play against Scotland, insisted yesterday that the striker no longer has a “physical injury”.
Asked how Rooney was, Hodgson told a press conference: “Good, just as I expected really. It’s difficult to assess with the naked eye how match-fit people are, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s not suffering from a physical injury.
“It will be interesting to get the feedback from our training sessions and we can see how he looks. We’ll speak with Wayne tomorrow morning.”
Hodgson added: “Since he’s got over the injuries he’s not been able to train as intensively as we did today, so we’ll see how that pans out. He tells me that he’s been training on his own while Manchester United have had games, on some fitness work, but he hasn’t had a chance to do a session like we had today where he was involved in functional aspects of play.
“I expect him to tell me that everything was fine and I expect him to get up fit and ready to go tomorrow morning as well.”
As expected, Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has not had to suffer the usual raft of call-offs as the Scotland players prepare to take part in the high profile friendly match.
The manager was forced to field a much-changed line-up in the surprise 1-0 win against Croatia in June after six players withdrew from the squad. Only one player, Brighton’s Liam Bridcutt, has called-off this time around. After the Group A victory Strachan stressed that he would reward those who stepped into the breach when the Wembley clash came around. McGhee yesterday confirmed that no-one would “walk straight back in”. However, they are intent on picking a team that provides Scotland with the most chance of winning.
“I don’t know if you will see them walk straight back in,” said McGhee, with reference to the likes of Scott Brown and Charlie Adam, who missed the trip to Zagreb due to injury. “Anyone that gets back in will do so on merit. Someone like Scott Brown is an important part of the squad and has been an important part of the team.
“I don’t think you would necessarily feel that someone like him would walk back into the team unfairly,” he added. “Gordon hasn’t picked a team yet. We have discussed probably 16 who realistically could start. Scott Brown would be one of them. He has brought in the same players that came to Croatia as well as the ones who weren’t there and that is great as I think it is starting to look like the squad going forward.”
Tomorrow night’s game marks the return of the fixture after an absence of 14 years. McGhee, who scored for Scotland in a 1-1 draw against England at Hampden in 1984, acknowledges that the excitement surrounding the clash is not what it once was. But he still detects a determination in players from both sides not to let their country down.
“In my experience, and I have spoken to English players about this, I know your Terry Butchers and people like that always wanted to beat Scotland badly and I think if you speak to Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard, they will want to beat Scotland just as much. In the scheme of things, there isn’t the same amount of hype around the game but from the players’ point of view I think the majority of them, especially the more seasoned pros, will want to beat Scotland.”