Now, England’s record goalscorer is set to win his 120th and, presumably, final cap. “This is unique because it is a tribute and recognition and not a selection,” Southgate said as he put up a robust defence.
However, the fact that he has not spoken directly to Rooney reinforces the fact that the recall was not the manager’s idea.
“I’ve not spoken to him since he was ambassador for the under-17s finals [in April]. We had a good discussion there but we haven’t directly discussed this [recall],” Southgate said. “There’s no particular agenda to me not speaking to him, let’s make that officially clear. I don’t think Wayne has been involved in all those discussions and I don’t need to be involved in all those discussions, frankly.”
Southgate said that giving Rooney a tribute match had been mooted a year ago and there was a plan to honour him at the June friendly against Nigeria before the World Cup. However, Southgate said that Rooney himself had vetoed this as he did not want to “detract” from England’s preparations. The US game is the first chance since then to host such a game.
“We are a strange country in that we bemoan the fact we haven’t achieved as much as we’d like and then we have a player who should be held in the highest regard and we are spending a lot of time justifying giving him that tribute,” Southgate said.
“Because it hasn’t happened for some wonderful players and wonderful ambassadors for our country in the past, then everybody immediately says, ‘We didn’t do it for Bobby Moore or Bobby Charlton’. But I don’t think when you look back any of us are particularly happy about the fact.”
Rooney will meet up with the squad on Monday, but will leave after the US game and before the Nations League fixture against Croatia, with Southgate dismissive when questioned whether the former captain should be taking a full part in training.
“But he is not a duck egg, is he? He is playing at a pretty decent level in the American League,” he said with Rooney now playing for DC United in the MLS.
Southgate has had to ring the changes in his squad, with injury ruling out Mason Mount, James Maddison, Harry Maguire and James Tarkowski, while Nathaniel Chalobah has been told, like Adam Lallana, he needs to gain more regular playing time with his club.
There is a first call-up for the 26-year-old Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson and a recall for Everton centre-half Michael Keane, both of whom will hope to feature in a much-changed line-up to face the US. “I don’t think we will give ourselves the best chance against Croatia if we play the [same] team twice,” Southgate argued.
He will also have to monitor injury concerns such as Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Tottenham Hotspur’s Eric Dier – although he said it was his information that both should be fit for their clubs this weekend – and another Liverpool player, Joe Gomez.
Southgate suggested that the England players had welcomed the decision to recall Rooney. “I think the team respect what he did and I think it is important they respect what the players did in the past,” Southgate said.
The Football Association has insisted that naming the US fixture after the Wayne Rooney Foundation was not designed to sell more tickets – although sales have risen from 45,000 to about 60,000.
Finally, how long will Rooney actually play for? “I think it should be appropriate that people are not heading for the Tube before he comes on and also we have got out of the game what we wanted and not taking someone off too early,” Southgate said.