It seems that ever since their golden generation of players rode off, well-beaten, into the Bloemfontein sunset at the 2010 World Cup, a free pass has been handed to England at tournaments. Surely, now, that free pass has to be ripped to shreds. For the first time in a very long time, this is an exciting England team – blessed with true talent. Up front there’s Harry Kane, the Premier League’s top scorer. In midfield, Eric Dier provides the steel, Dele Alli the skill. At the back, Chris Smalling is coming off his best-ever season, while Joe Hart is a reliable keeper with tournament experience behind him. There’s pace and power throughout the side.
Then there’s Wayne Rooney.
It feels as if he’s been around forever. Yet, he’s only 30 – just a year older than Vardy. It’s not just Rooney’s relative youth that people overlook. In the two years since the Three Lions whimpered out of the Brazil World Cup, England’s No10 has become their skipper and record goalscorer – their leader and talisman. Being captain of such a young England side, he’s vital to their success this summer.
How have England changed since the 2014 World Cup?
Brazil was obviously disappointing. We’ve taken giant strides forward, coming back from that, winning all our qualifiers and playing well in a lot of our friendlies. If we continue to do that I’m sure we’ll do well at the Euros. The first part’s done – getting there. The second and most important part is the tournament itself. We’ll be ready.
What has Roy Hodgson brought to the team?
He’s got quite a different squad to those of previous years. He’s adapted really well to this group of players – he’s getting the best out of them. In the World Cup he still had young players with little or no international experience. They’ve had that now, two years on. That’s obviously going to benefit them going into this tournament. The manager’s been building for this.
What do you make of England’s Group B rivals – Russia, Wales and Slovakia?
It’s a good group – it won’t be easy. The Wales game will definitely have a lot of attention. Russia and Slovakia aren’t as well known, but they’ll be difficult. I’ve played both of them before. We were beaten by Russia [in Euro 2008 qualification], and Slovakia are a tough team to play against. It’ll be down to us to beat them, though.
England have come up against Wales a few times recently. What do you expect from them?
They’re a good team with players we’re familiar with. I’m sure they’ll try to make it more of a Premier League-type fixture than an international one. We have to be aware of that and stick to our game plan. They obviously have danger men in their side – players like Gareth Bale, one of the best in the world. We’ll have to keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t have too much space.
How do England teams feel, physically, going into these tournaments? Are they tired?
It’s possible England players can feel a little tired because of the Premier League’s intensity. It’s a lot higher and there’s no winter break. It’s non-stop. But once you’re part of the squad and playing in the tournament no player has any thoughts of tiredness. I think it’s normal for players to be training and playing games every few days.
What are tournaments like on the day-to-day? Do you feel much pressure?
You’re in the hotel quite a lot – there’s a games room and a lot of matches on TV, which we’ll look forward to watching. It’s a focused environment but we try to make it as fun as we can.
How have things changed for you since you’ve become England captain?
It’s obviously a huge honour. The squad’s fairly young, so it’s important I give them some of my knowledge and experience of the past 13 years playing for England. I don’t think screaming and shouting helps anyone, but there are little things you can do, like talking to players individually and encouraging them.
This squad is full of exciting talent. Is this the quickest, most youthful England team you’ve ever played in?
Yeah, the likes of Dele Alli, Ross Barkley and Danny Rose have all come in and done a good job. I think it’s the quickest team – it’s exciting to be a part of it. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of success with this team.
There are more options up front, too, with the likes of Kane and Vardy in the squad. What have you made of them?
They’ve been terrific, not just for their clubs, but for England. When they’ve come in they’ve both played really well. It’s great for the team and for the manager – he’s now got options how he wants to play.
Can England win it?
You never know – tournament football is tough. Whoever wins it needs a bit of luck. But we’re in a good position. We just need to build on it. If we get it right, I’m sure we’ll have a good go.
Rooney will wear England's new 2016 home kit, built for speed with revolutionary Nike AeroSwift innovation; Nike.com