Wayne Rooney admitted that not playing in a successful England side would always be “one of my very few regrets”, after he declined an invitation from Gareth Southgate to return to the international set-up and decided instead to bow out after 119 caps and a record 53 goals for his country. Rooney’s decision to announce his international retirement followed a telephone call from Southgate asking if the Everton striker, with two goals in as many Premier League fixtures since returning to his first club from Manchester United, would return to the squad and effectively fill the void left by Adam Lallana being injured.
Southgate had previously removed Rooney after the striker lost his place at Old Trafford and the likelihood is that there was not going to be a starting place if he had accepted the invitation. Rooney turns 32 in October and, acutely aware that Everton would rather he concentrated on his club career, made the “really tough decision” he had always said would never be an option, namely issuing a statement to announce he was making himself unavailable for England.
His intention at that stage was to retire after the next World Cup but Southgate had gradually eased him out after taking over from Sam Allardyce as manager and, even if Rooney had returned to the squad for the next two World Cup qualifiers against Malta and Slovakia, it is unlikely he would have been selected ahead of Harry Kane, the team’s principal striker, or Dele Alli in the No10 role. Rooney might still have backed himself to reach Peter Shilton’s record 125‑cap haul but it turns out his appearance against Scotland last November, captaining the side to a 3-0 win at Wembley, was his last for his country.
England are leading their World Cup qualifying group after six games and Southgate will name his squad on 24 August 2017 for the trip to Malta on 25 August 2017, followed by the visit of Slovakia, who are second in Group F, to Wembley three days later. Nathaniel Chalobah, Watford’s summer signing from Chelsea, is one of the players in Southgate’s thinking and the manager is due to hold a press conference at St George’s Park.