Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Rooney's Ready to Prove His Worth for England; Striker Keen to Hit Goals Trail

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Football: Rooney's Ready to Prove His Worth for England; Striker Keen to Hit Goals Trail

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Stone

WAYNE Rooney has admitted it is two years since he last played well for England - and if Emile Heskey had been fit, he would be facing a real fight to start tomorrow's Wembley showdown with Estonia.

Virtually since the day he broke onto the international scene as a raw 17-year-old against Australia in 2003, the thought of an England manager leaving out a fully-fit Rooney has been viewed as a non-existent prospect.

Yet the Manchester United front-man accepts it was a distinct possibility, had Heskey not suffered the kind of broken metatarsal injury that has scarred his own career immediately after playing a starring role in last month's wins over Israel and Russia. Heskey's absence offers Rooney another chance to impress - and end a goal drought in competitive action for England which stretches back to Euro 2004.

"My England career started well but it hasn't really been on track for the last year or two," he said. "Emile was brilliant and I am sure if he was fit the manager would have had a difficult decision to make as to who he played up front. I have been frustrated with my form but it is not through lack of effort. I have given 110% every time I have played but for some reason it just has not happened. It just makes me more determined to put it right and start scoring again."

Despite amassing 38 caps so far, Rooney, who celebrates his 22nd birthday later this month, claims he feels like a new-boy in the current England squad. His last appearance for the Three Lions came against Andorra in Barcelona in March, a match that will forever be remembered for the ferocity of abuse directed at manager Steve McClaren and his team as they struggled to overcome the part-timers.

Since then, Rooney has sat out five games through a combination of injury and suspension. Three of them - all qualifiers - have been won, transforming England's Group E prospects and totally changing the atmosphere around the camp.

"Coming in this week feels like my first squad again," said Rooney. "You cannot help but notice a change in the atmosphere. It is far more relaxed now. When I was last involved, there was a lot of pressure on the team. Obviously, we have had good results over the last few games. I am sure that has helped and hopefully it will help us in the next few matches as well."

While McClaren wrestles with selection issues that look increasingly likely to see Gareth Barry retain his place in central midfield, Nicky Shorey start ahead of Ashley Cole at left-back and Sol Campbell take over John Terry's central defensive berth - after the captain was ruled out by knee injury last night - Rooney knows he will be asked to provide support for Michael Owen.

It is not a partnership that has always worked well, even though Rooney and Owen are, beyond question, the best two strikers McClaren has. …

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