'˜Rooney must start. He's England's talisman'

Wayne Rooney has to start at Euro 2016 in the view of Terry Butcher, with the former captain believing England's talisman is not only the best player at Roy Hodgson's disposal but also the most influential.

John Stones, Jack Wilshire, Nathanial Clyne, Wayne Rooney, Eric Dier and Raheem Sterling during Englands Euros send-off in London. Picture: Getty

How best to utilise the 30-year-old has been the subject of much debate in recent years, with the player that burst on to the scene as a lung-busting forward now looking to a future in midfield.

Rooney played the role impressively for Manchester United towards the end of the season but started as a deep-lying forward against Portugal last Thursday, with in-form Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane playing wider in the underwhelming 1-0 friendly win.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

The triumvirate’s ineffectiveness has led to criticism and fresh questions over where best to play Rooney, but former defender Butcher, pictured, is in no doubt that the captain has to start the Group B opener against Russia on Saturday.

“You can play him in a variety of positions and I just think he should be in the team,” he explained. “He is England’s talisman, he’s England’s 
best player for me, the most experienced player in terms of tournaments.

“He’s leading England into a tournament for the first time in his career, which is a lovely feeling. I think we’ll get the best out of him, wherever we play him – midfield, on the left, behind, further forwards, whatever. He has to be in the team because countries look at England and say ‘if Rooney’s playing, we’ve got to watch him’. If he’s not playing, the teams will say ‘we’ve got a good chance now’. It comes down to that for me.”

Butcher has been impressed by the way Rooney has grown into the captaincy since succeeding Steven Gerrard after the World Cup.

The chastening experience of Brazil still hurts two years on but this is a squad in transition, with much of the old guard having been replaced by young, unfettered talent.

England’s squad is the youngest of the 24 heading to Euro 2016 and Butcher can’t wait to see how they fare in France.

“It think it’s an exciting squad,” added the former Motherwell, Inverness Caley Thistle and Hibernian manager. “There’s always something happening whether it is at the back or up front, so I don’t think there will be any dull nil-nils.

“I find it exciting, I find the whole way England play, the whole squad is made up with good young players and also some bits of experience dotted everywhere, mainly through the centre of the team.

“You look at Hart, Cahill, Milner, Rooney – they’ve got some good solid players there.”

Among those making their first appearance at a major tournament is Eric Dier, who has won seven caps but all in friendlies.

The 22-year-old has flourished this season having been transformed into a defensive midfielder and his ability to play in the backline makes him “England’s most important player” in Butcher’s opinion.

“I think when England are most vulnerable is when we’re attacking and that leaves us a little wide open,” he said.

“That’s why I say Dier is so key to mop things up in front of that back four. We know we’ve got problems at the back.”