“I don’t understand it, but that seems to be the landscape. I’ve no idea how that is expected to help him,” Southgate said in his postgame press conference. “I think his experience, his leadership has been crucial throughout this week, not just today.”
Rooney struggled to create a host of chances against a team England was expected to pummel. Malta was blasted by the Czech Republic 6-0 back in May and that Scotland walloped them 5-1 just a month ago. England held 80% of the possession throughout the match and ripped 20 shots, 10 of them on target, and the result was never in doubt – but the hosts could only muster a pair of strikes from Daniel Sturridge and Dele Alli midway through the first half.
[ RELATED: Rooney retained, dropped to deep midfield role ]
The debate has raged on about Rooney, currently England’s most divisive player. With no true consensus on where best to deploy the Manchester United mainstay, Southgate has played him in a deep-lying midfield role, diminishing his ability to contribute up front against a far-inferior team. Yet the interim boss pledged his undying support for the 30-year-old captain.
“Every debate seems to focus on him,” Southgate said. “The onus on him is enormous, the criticism of him is, at times, unfair and yet he ploughs on and plays with pride and represents his country with pride.”