'No repeat' of Rooney red card tonight, predicts Neville
Wayne Rooney will keep his cool against Montenegro tonight, insisted Gary Neville as he launched a defence of the player against claims he has failed to fulfil his potential in an England shirt.
Speaking exclusively to ITV ahead of the key World Cup Qualifier tonight at the Podgorica City Stadium, the England coach says critics of the much-decorated Manchester United striker are setting the bar at an unrealistic level of comparisons with 'Pele or Maradona'.
In the interview, to be shown as part of ITV’s coverage of the match starting at 7.30pm, Neville says Rooney remains England's main attacker and predicts the player, who was sent off against tonight's opponents in 2011, will be targeted by the Montenegrins, but will not react on this occasion.
“You talk about unfulfilled potential, you are really setting the bar high at times… You’re talking about somebody winning European cups, … four or five championships, league cups, all sorts of awards… So at what level are you setting the bar? Are you talking Pele, are you talking Maradona?
“I called my England career a waste of time based on fact I didn’t win anything with the country. What [Rooney] will want... He will want to win for his country. Going to a tournament and achieving something, that is what every England player thrives on. The fact that we can be the team that actually go out there and deliver. And he is as passionate about that as anybody.
“From the minute he came into the team to today he almost thrives on the bigger the occasion. And England need him. He is a top quality player when he delivers and plays well.”
Neville is asked by ITV Sport reporter Gabriel Clarke whether Rooney would be specifically targeted by the Montenegro players and tips him to keep his cool.
“Well you would do, wouldn’t you. You look at the Poland game - [Moldova had a] man sent off, they had a man sent off in Moldova, and they will try and put lots of tackles in on Wayne Rooney.
“But Wayne on Tuesday evening will keep his cool, I’ve no doubts about that. There will be absolutely no repeat [of the red card], I mean at times in his career Wayne has reacted but he’s no different to any player who wanted to win that I knew.”
Keen to move on from the issue with Rio Ferdinand, Neville also gives the centre-backs in England’s squad his vote of confidence.
“They’re very good defenders, you see that in training every time you play with them and I’ve got full confidence they will deliver on Tuesday night. Mirko Vucinic has said England’s central defence is a weak area. Well, Vucinic plays in Italian football and they have a certain confidence and bravado before matches and that’s the way they should be.
They’re trying to whip up their own fans, their own confidence and that is something you have to deal with when you come to a country like Montenegro.”
Asked if England should win, he says:
“Oh, of course we should win. I’ve never gone into an England game not thinking we can win - maybe a bit naïve, but I never thought that way.”
“We should be confident that we can go and beat them, they’re talented players and they can all handle the ball. However if England play as England play, we’ve got fantastic players who should be able to handle it.”
Asked who Montenegro’s dangermen are most likely to be, Neville says he believes it will be the striking partnership of Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic.
“You would have to say the front two, it’s obvious. They intelligent, both of them... And they always try and find each other. They can both play as forwards and as midfielders at times and they’re difficult to pick up. They’re two quality players, playing in the Italian top league.”
Asked about the reception England can expect from both fans and players, Neville says he expects his team to cope with the atmosphere:
“[The fans] really do create a good atmosphere for their team. It comes from history, recent history probably. Their fighting spirit, the fact that they’ve been through difficult times, they’ve been through wars, and they take that spirit out into the match. They are aggressive in the challenges and the fans live off the back of that.
“You watch the vid of the Poland game and the keeper for Poland gets pelted for five mins at one point. But you expect that it shouldn’t be an excuse at the end of the game.
“We’ve got to try and kill the game, keep the ball, score a goal, take the sting out of the game… You shouldn’t let a crowd get to you at this level, you should use it as an inspiration. These are experienced players who will really want to silence the crowd.”
On the potential state of the pitch and the Montenegrin coach’s accusation that England are a long-ball team, he says:
“You know you are gonna go to pitches, away grounds that aren’t normal. And that’s why countries regularly get to tournaments because they’re able to deal with these issues.”
“To be fair I know more than anybody there are a lot of words spoken in football and it doesn’t really matter that much. But really you’ve gotta focus on your own game when you’re England.”