Hello again, dear reader. My apologies for such a substantial delay in posting, I’m pleased to see my good friend Mr Mantle has kept this place ticking over, but it’s about time I played my part.

Now there have been a few interesting topics since I’ve been away: Capello and England, Danny Murphy’s mouth, Marlon King’s return to the game and Arsene Wenger’s ‘war on tackles’ to name just a few. However, in this week there is only one place I can start: Wayne Rooney, and Manchester United.

I see Mr Mantle has posted on the topic already this week, clearly taken in by the idea that Rooney was away to pastures new. Now I never totally accepted that idea, and the reason why was Fergie himself. Normally when a player crosses the manager at United he is out the door in less time than it takes Rio Ferdinand to say “drugs test”. However, the key was in Ol’ Red Nose’s language: “my door is always open”.

Let’s be honest here. If this whole argument was about money, there’s no way Rooney would have wanted to leave. Manchester United, no matter how much debt they are in, can and will match anybody in the world as far as wages for top players go. Anybody. And that includes both Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as Real Madrid and Barcelona. When this is considered, you have to assume that there is something else in this whole stance.

It is easy to say (indeed many already have) that Rooney has disrespected the fans and the club by his stance. Perhaps my views are because I’m not a United fan, but I entirely disagree with Hayward and his ilk. I think Rooney’s stance showed him to be at one with the United support, positioning himself with the green and gold campaign seen in Old Trafford each and every week.

“But Mike, he asked to leave…” I hear you ask. Indeed, that he did. But what better way to criticise the club’s owners by demanding a transfer, even when you don’t actually want to leave? If that isn’t a big “we’re going backwards” type of statement, when the best player at the club publicly questions the ambitions of the country’s biggest club, I don’t know what is.

This time last year, Rooney made a public statement which said that he wanted to stay at United for the duration of his career. Had that really changed in just  12 short months? Of course not, and despite the off-field activities of ‘Shrek’, United was as good for him as he was for them.

So now United fans feel let down by Rooney. What I have to ask is ‘why’? Because he questioned where United were going? Because he felt United couldn’t sign the kind of player that’d take another European Cup to Old Trafford? Because he questioned whether United could attract the best players in the city of Manchester, let alone England? Where have we heard this before? At last, one of your biggest players has come out and said exactly the same message as you have all been giving out for years.

Much like Liverpool under Hicks and Gillette, the debt at United is gradually strangling the club. The money that is generated through the turnstiles, the TV revenue and merchandise is now being spent on servicing the ridiculous-near BILLION pound debt acquired by Mr Glazer, rather than being reinvested into the squad or (heaven forbid) reducing ticket prices so ordinary fans can turn Old Trafford into the cauldron of noise it should be (think Celtic Park on a European night.)

I’d suggest United fans should use this as a springboard to continue the campaign to rid the club of the Glazer family. Continue to question the ambition of the club under the Americans. Continue to ask why Fergie isn’t given the kind of cash to match your “noisy neighbours”, especially when you consider how much is made by the United ‘brand’ (I now feel very dirty, thanks.) And continue to ask how you can replace Cristiano Ronaldo with Nani.

Although I do have to be honest here and admit that I find the state of United quite amusing. It’s almost like Fergie is playing a real life game of Football Manager, selling all his best players and signing Steve Guppy in their place. As to whether this is good for English football though is certainly open to debate…

As regular readers may know, generally I like to sleep on performances before I post my views. Last night I wasn’t able to do that, hence my posting within a couple of hours. As a result, this post won’t be too long, but I do have a couple of points to make on last night’s England performance.

The first one is an age-old-adage, a conversation which has been taking place in pubs around England for the best part of a decade. I’m amazed I’m still having to say this, but here goes: Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard cannot play in midfield together. Steven Gerrard is not a winger, right or left, or a holding midfield player. He is an offensive central midfielder, or alternatively what the Italians call a “trequartista”, somebody who operates in ‘the hole’ behind a main striker. Considering he is one of England’s best players, he should be played in one of those positions.

When Capello began his job, he told us players would be picked on “form and fitness” and not reputation. How then, can he justify the inclusion of Emile Heskey, and indeed, Wayne Rooney? Last night I added my voice to the growing call for Capello to change the shape of the England side to benefit Rooney. Today I have changed my mind, and if Capello is to stick to his original claim, he should also stick with the current shape.

Instead, he should remove Lampard, Heskey and Rooney from the side (although even if Rooney was on form I’d drop him for his petulance) and move Gerrard into the middle with Barry. From here he can dominate the midfield, safe in the knowledge he has Barry shoring up the defence. I do think Joe Cole adds to the side, and he would be my choice for the left, adding some sparkle to the side.

And then up front. No Heskey, to be replaced by Peter Crouch. OK, Crouch isn’t a perfect centre-forward, but he is a goal threat. And Rooney to be replaced by Defoe. Very much a goal threat, a six-yard box striker, and the all-Tottenham strike combination have the benefit of playing together for their club.

I suppose I should finish this post by giving my take on why Rooney has been so poor. Many people have suggested he is “burnt out”, or carrying an injury. For me though, it is a mental issue. I believe he is under too much pressure; the only potent goal threat in the team. Playing alongside Heskey does him no favours on that front. Perhaps starting on the bench will help to motivate him for the next match? Who knows.

All I do know is a rapid transformation is required in the next 5 days. Otherwise, Mr Capello may well find himself with a P45 waiting for him when he gets home.

As our regular readers will know, sometimes I warn you in advance when there is a rant coming on. I trust for tonight, that none of you would expect anything less…

So where do I begin? Wow. Just wow. What an utter shambles that performance really was. No heart, no soul, no iota of quality. No drive, no commitment, and absolutely no desire. Where was the one quality midfielder, ready to put his foot on the ball, and grab the game by the scruff of the neck? Where was the impudent wide man, ready to run at the defenders and supply the forwards with a killer cross? And where was the brave centre forward, ready to put his head in where it hurts to grab that decisive goal? The answer to all of these questions is easy: nowhere. England were a shambles, from the manager to every single player on the pitch. Let us start at the start, shall we?

After the match against the USA, I felt Fabio Capello received some highly unnecessary stick. However, after tonight’s performance he will get utterly slated, and deservedly so. To be honest, I’ll happily kick that stick off.

My good friend Ross wrote a piece the other day in defence of Rob Green. Fair play to Ross, he was bang on the money. I personally was very disappointed that Green was dropped, and I feel it is now evident that Green will play no further part of this competition. Indeed, dropping a ‘keeper after a mistake is a good way to utterly demolish his confidence, and the news that Green only discovered his fate through the press will only further that ideal. Own goal then, Mr Capello.

Secondly, “Don Fabio” stuck with the most impotent striker of the top 10 nations at the World Cup by picking Heskey. Honestly Mr Capello, why? I’ve quoted Brian Clough on this blog before (even as a Notts fan!) and I’ll do so again: “the first job of a striker is to put the ball in the net”. Emile Heskey averages a goal every 8.4 games for England. How the hell does he get in the side? Then of course you can ask why arguably England’s most creative player, Joe Cole, didn’t even get on as a substitute, or why Peter Crouch got an entire 10 minutes.

Capello could quite easily have changed the shape of the side tonight, something which would suit both Gerrard and Rooney, arguably England’s best two players. In turn, this would add Cole to a side woefully lacking in creativity, something which just might help unlock that Algerian door.

Even if Capello hadn’t wanted to change the side, he could easily have picked Crouch. Although he has his critics, Crouch has a better International goalscoring record than any of the other strikers in the squad (averaging a goal every 1.8 games, over Rooney’s goal every 2 and a half games) Crouch is widely criticised for only scoring goals against “minnows”. Algeria are ranked 22 places below England and are hardly Brazil, so what is the issue?

Then there is the performance of Wayne Rooney: thoroughly out-of-sorts. Whether the issue is a mental one, unhappy with Capello’s tactics, or a physical one, it might well be an idea to remove him from the side for the Slovenia game. Jermaine Defoe will have a point to prove, and he and his Spurs strike partner Crouch might just be the right call. (penny for the thoughts of Darren Bent, mind!)

So are there any positives from the performance? Arguably, no, none at all. OK, so the inclusion of Barry helped the balance of the side, but we all knew that already. Lampard and Gerrard cannot play together, so Barry was always going to improve that side of the game. However, that is it.

I cannot finish this post without addressing Rooney’s post-match comments. For anybody who stormed off after the match, there’s a video below.

Yes Wayne, the England squad were booed. Why? Because England allegedly have some of the best players in the world, most of whom are paid in excess of £100,000 a week, yet they cannot beat an African side who have never progressed from the group stages. Not only that, but most of the England fans who have travelled to the game have spent thousands of pounds and travelled thousands of miles for the privilege. Tell me, what EXACTLY do you expect? Ask yourself how you’d feel if you’d spent 10 or even 20 per cent of your annual income to witness that monstrosity. How do you think you’d feel?

So we look forward to Wednesday and Slovenia. Will Capello learn his lesson and change the shape of the side? Personally, I doubt it. Mercifully, England’s future is still in their own hands, and fingers crossed they’ll capitalise on their good fortune. much like they did in Italia 90. However, I’d suggest much more likely is the idea of seeing the squad join the French on that first flight home.