Jun 19, 2014 at 8pm UK at ​Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo
Uruguay
2-1
England
Suarez (39', 85')
Godin (9')
FT(HT: 1-0)
Rooney (75')
Gerrard (68')

How to solve a problem like Wayne Rooney?

As the debate over Wayne Rooney's place in the England team intensifies, Sports Mole assesses the options available to Roy Hodgson where the striker is concerned.

The sound of knives being sharpened was alarmingly audible up and down the country as Wayne Rooney skewed England's best second-half chance of an equaliser against Italy a foot wide of the post.

See, there were those that have insisted for some time now that Rooney had become more of a hindrance than a help to the Three Lions, particularly in major tournaments, where since Euro 2004 he has struggled to reach the lofty heights that he set as a bullish and fearless 18-year-old in Portugal.

Yet in Manaus on Saturday evening, talk of Rooney's worth to the team peaked, bordering on an (unhealthy) obsession. While Twitter can be awash with craziness at the best of times, it does at least provide a quota of fascination.

According to one measure, Rooney's name was mentioned almost 500,000 times over the course of the 90 minutes, while Raheem Sterling - widely accepted to have been England's most effective player - received half the number of those tweets. Evidently, making Rooney a scapegoat was high on the agenda of disappointed fans.

Wayne Rooney of England reacts during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between England and Italy at Arena Amazonia on June 14, 2014© Getty Images

The World Cup's poster boy - Neymar - lit up the opening night last Thursday, while Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie, Giovani dos Santos, Alexis Sanchez, Karim Benzema, Thomas Muller and Joel Campbell have all shone in an advanced role. Allowing for the individual talent that each possesses, the main factor behind their positive showings has been the fact that they are deployed in their best and most natural position.

Rooney must have looked on with envious eyes, particularly when he learned from Roy Hodgson that he would line up against the Italians on the left of an attacking three behind Daniel Sturridge.

Long story short, Rooney is not a left-sided attacker and despite being more involved in the encounter than many have given him credit for, his lack of energy and the defensive nous needed to fulfill the responsibilities that the position demands was clear. A younger Rooney may have at least possessed the necessary stamina, but one too many injuries have taken their toll on the body.

It was a lesson learned by Sir Alex Ferguson when, during the 2009 Champions League final against Barcelona in Rome, Rooney was shunted left to make way for Cristiano Ronaldo. The thinking behind the decision was that Rooney could exploit Barca's defensive frailties from out wide, but it was an ineffective performance from him on what was a disappointing night for United in the Italian capital.

Wayne Rooney looks on dejected after Manchester United concede a goal against Barcelona on May 27, 2009.© Getty Images

The subsequent departure of Ronaldo that summer saw Rooney promoted to role as talisman - the centre-forward, whom the team was built around. He responded by scoring 84 goals in the three campaigns that followed, before having his nose put out of joint by Van Persie's arrival.

Nevertheless, that return highlights that Rooney is at his most influential either as a lone striker or failing that, playing just behind a partner. He can back that up internationally as well, having scored 10 times in an England shirt between Euro 2012 and this World Cup. Seven of those were scored in qualifiers, while two came in home and away friendlies against Brazil.

Speaking in the wake of the Italy fixture, Rooney's former England and Man United teammate Rio Ferdinand told BBC Sport: "He's our top scorer and is going for the England record. He is a number nine or a number 10. If you want to get the best out of him, play him in his best position. You've got to give your best goalscorer in terms of his record the best chance to score goals."

Meanwhile, Alan Shearer, who found the net 30 times for England - nine fewer than Rooney, added: "Rooney was unhappy and uncomfortable out there and I understand why. We should not be playing our top goalscorer out of position. Put him where he can do some damage."

Wayne Rooney of England celebrates scoring their first goal during the International friendly match between England and Ecuador at Sun Life Stadium on June 4, 2014© Getty Images

Hodgson was warned of Rooney's frailties out wide when he started him there against Ecuador in the build up to the tournament, but the experienced coach failed to heed that against Italy. In his defence, Rooney was not on the periphery - as has been suggested.

He had three meaningful attempts (one of which he will be bitterly disappointed to have spurned) and assisted England's goal with a perfectly weighted cross that Sturridge couldn't fail to convert. What's more, the 6.9 miles covered by Rooney was a mile more than any other England player.

Yet, there was still too much of the 2009 Champions League final about Rooney for the liking of the supporters, media and no doubt himself. On more than one occasion he seemed caught between his natural instinct to attack and the need to aid a badly struggling Leighton Baines.

Another of his former United teammates, Paul Scholes, who himself spent part of his England career being played out of position, wrote in his Paddy Power column: "The disappointing thing was not the way Wayne Rooney played but where he was played. I don't blame Wayne one little bit but he was played in three different positions.

Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes before a Manchester United match against Aston Villa on April 15, 2012.© Getty Images

"He's without a doubt England's best goalscorer (his record in qualifying showed that: seven goals). But he was played on the left, played on the right, then in the centre. Where's the confidence in Wayne to say: 'You're our main player. You're our centre forward.' If he plays there, he scores goals."

It means that ahead of Thursday's must-win group meeting with Uruguay, it's decision time for Hodgson. He must either revert Rooney to a more central role or bow to the seemingly growing masses by dropping England's fifth leading goalscorer of all time.

Moving Rooney back into more familiar and comfortable surroundings is likely to result in Sterling, who caused the Azzurri problems in the Amazon, deviating out wide, although it is hardly a position that is foreign to the Liverpool youngster.

However, should Hodgson not wish to disturb the in-form 19-year-old and his club colleague Sturridge, Rooney should be omitted. If you're not going to build a team around the striker in a position in which he can thrive, continuing with the left wing ploy is only hanging him out to dry for the vultures. More importantly, it's handicapping the team, with the likes of Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck much more adept in that position.

Either way, Hodgson must come to a verdict. England's participation in Brazil beyond the group stages may depend on it.

Should England drop Wayne Rooney against Uruguay?

Yes
No
Yes
39.1%
No
60.9%
Wayne Rooney of England reacts during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group D match between England and Italy at Arena Amazonia on June 14, 2014
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