thumbnail Hello,

He was the star of the show against Slovakia, a game that showed just why he is far and away England's most valuable player, believes Goal.com's Sulmaan Ahmad.

Every so often, there are those symbolic moments in football. Whether it was an unfancied and inconsistent Germany bulldozing through Portugal at crunch-time in Euro 2008, Lionel Messi scoring yet another wonder-goal against Malaga, or Milan contriving to lose a two-goal lead against Werder Bremen and actually get eliminated from the UEFA Cup.

The list is endless. Those cliches that we are loathe to regurgitate but nevertheless remain almost set in stone, proven over and over again: Germany are, by whatever extension, a threat in knockout stages. Think of them as the Liverpool of international football. Scientists have conceived technology that allows Messi to play within the safe confines of a Sonic the Hedgehog-like forcefield. And Milan... Milan are a shamefully old and inconsistent team. They're no more likely to lose to Barcelona than they are to Brescia. It is what it is.

So as sick as you may be of hearing about it, Wayne Rooney really is the future of England. Yes, he has been on the international scene for five years and could just as easily be considered 'the present', but the far more salient point is that beyond him, there is no future for the national side.

He has been the last youngster of world class potential to break through to the senior side, with Theo Walcott having been the best since then. He is the only forward England have, barring the injury-plagued Michael Owen, that can be considered a genuine threat.

If you ever needed the symbolism to accompany this theory, look no further than Saturday's Slovakia encounter.

Emile Heskey, although credited with the opener that appeared to come off defender Martin Skrtel, has still really only scored five goals in 52 England appearances, not six. A woeful return for a man that has rarely if ever been picked for his goal-scoring, but in fact his admirable ability to enable others to score. Either way, he went off injured after his (or Skrtel's) goal early on.

He was replaced by Carlton Cole, who has been impressive at club level but didn't last too long before he crumbled under a circumspect Wembley surface and had to be taken off as well. The substitute was substituted.

But wait - it gets worse. His replacement, Peter Crouch, had an already goal-bound header touched in by an offside John Terry. Not only did the lanky forward lose his goal, he later lost his leg. A flying boot from Skrtel - which Crouch believes was intentional - ended his evening prematurely as well.

Three strikers came and went alongside Rooney throughout the course of the game. He finished playing up on his own. It's also worth a passing mention that he was absolutely outstanding; far and away the man of the match, netting two of England's four on the night - even if the second was a touch offside.

If Terry, Steven Gerrard and Rooney are the Three Lions, with Terry the captain and Gerrard universally considered the best, then Rooney is the most important.

With all due respect to the Three Musketeers that partnered him on the night, it really doesn't matter who plays up front alongside the Merseyside man for his country. Without going as far as to suggest England don't need a No. 9 - because tactically, the target-man is essential to this system that has so far borne brilliant results - Rooney's seamless transition between partners proved that, while a target-man who can find the net such as Didier Drogba would be perfect for the setup, any one of a number of less prolific partners at least will do the job.

The search for the perfect system is over; this is as close as England will get.

Capello has in the past likened the Manchester United forward to Raul, and putting aside his psychotic rage and somewhat more agricultural appearance, it's not hard to see why. A prodigy, perhaps with less of a goal-scoring instinct so far during his career, but with that same boundless energy and invaluable range of abilities.

Don Fabio's faith in the 23-year-old is unwavering and it's because he sees that legendary potential. All the talk is currently of David Beckham's successive record-breaking, but Rooney is on course not only to beat Beckham, but Shilton as well, not to mention Sir Bobby Charlton's goal-scoring haul.

His link-up play with Gerrard was, as it has been in recent England games, the stuff of which every England fan's dreams are made. They were telepathic, uncontainable and thoroughly entertaining, with the striker - whether Heskey, Cole or Crouch - proving a valuable outlet in facilitating much of their play.

It wasn't just Rooney's goal-scoring instinct that won over the fans - he even missed a chance arguably easier than his header and his instinctive late strike - but his passing was as good as anyone else in the side and his movement at times magical. Of course, it was only Slovakia, but this new and improved Rooney - and England - will now ask so many more questions of even the top opposition if he, and they, continue in this vein.

Wayne Rooney is unlikely to ever be considered the best in the world - as he probably never will be - but that should never be an excuse to shirk celebrating his ability and achievements. Just because he was hyped from such a young age and hasn't yet replicated Messi, Ronaldinho or Zinedine Zidane, it doesn't invalidate his status as a top player.

There seems to be, at best, a grudging respect for the "crazy man", and maybe it will take a landmark showing in South Africa 2010 - six years on from his breakthrough at Portugal 2004 - to finally silence all his doubters.

Sulmaan Ahmad, Goal.com

Related

From the web

From the web