England captain Steven Gerrard says Wayne Rooney “looks good” and is ready to play a big role in tonight’s friendly international against Scotland.
Rooney – linked with a move away from Manchester United this summer and the subject of two bids from Chelsea has been struggling with hamstring and shoulder injuries that have ruled him out of most of his club’s pre-season programme.
The striker’s situation did not prevent England manager Roy Hodgson from calling him into his squad for this evening’s contest at Wembley, and Gerrard has no doubts the United man can make an impact if given a chance.
“He’s certainly not match-fit because he’s not played in any friendly games throughout the summer but it’s the same old Wayne Rooney in training. He looks good and he’s scoring goals,” Gerrard told a press conference.
“He’s certainly ready to play; he’s prepared really well. He needs these minutes for his own personal fitness and I’m sure he’s itching to start.”
Tonight’s meeting with Scotland comes just days before the start of the new Barclays Premier League season – and Gerrard views the contest as the perfect curtain-raiser, as well a key warm-up ahead of World Cup qualifiers with Moldova and Ukraine next month.
“It’s a World Cup year and we’ve got four very important World Cup qualifiers not too far away,” said Gerrard. “We’ve got a big game tomorrow against our local rivals, so it’s going off with a bang. All the players are excited and looking forward to an exciting year.
“We’re expecting a quick start and a high-tempo game. They’re going to be well up for the game. They want to beat England, we want to beat Scotland.
“We play against these guys week in, week out, so it’s a good test for us. Going into the important games in a couple of weeks’ time it’s important we go in feeling confident and on the back of a good performance.”
With this evening’s match scheduled so close to the new season, there will be concerns about players collecting injuries, but Gerrard says clubs cannot start attempting to limit the amount of time their players spend on the pitch.
“The Premier League managers have got to understand we’re here representing our country, it’s a big game and we all want to play as many minutes as possible,” he said. “There’ll be no holding back because it’s a big game and we want to win.”
England goalkeeper Joe Hart, meanwhile, is relishing the prospect of the return of England-Scotland matches, with the teams having met only three times since the ill-fated Rous Cup concept was abandoned five years after the demise of the Home International Championships.
“It is going to be exciting,” said the Manchester City No 1. “You know how everyone is going to be on the outside, which always makes the game more interesting.
“Scotland are a team we want to beat. You can’t get away from that fact. It is good to have rivalry. I enjoy rivalry. And there is definitely rivalry between England and Scotland.”
And Hart also addressed questions that the middle of August – and just before the start of the Premier League season – is not the greatest time for such a fixture.
“Football is our lives,” added Hart. “It is what we do. We have not just been plucked off the beach. You can’t afford to come back overweight otherwise you will lose your place.
“The way football is now, most of the boys like to keep themselves in good shape anyway. You do get a short time away, which you enjoy. But that doesn’t mean you are going wild because you need to be ready as soon as you start. It will certainly be easy to get up for this fixture.”
Unlike the England squad, with its sprinkling of world stars and high-profile Premier League players, Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has to make the best of what he has available.
That includes Jordan Rhodes, who has such an outstanding scoring record for Huddersfield and Blackburn without a top-flight club being willing to take a punt on the 23-year-old.
Not that Hart views life outside the Premier League as a negative. As someone who began his career at Shrewsbury, Hart knows how difficult it can be to get the chance to make a step up.
“Not everyone gets the chance to play in the Premier League,” he said. It is a really tough league to get into. For the likes of Jordan Rhodes, it is only a matter of time. It is not due to ability. It is just getting that chance.”