WAYNE ROONEY’s absence from the meeting in which Gareth Southgate outlined how England could become “the best in the world” over the coming years suggests more than ever they are going to have to do it without him.

Gareth Southgate had vital meeting with England squad: Wayne Rooney was absent

The deposed captain, dropped from the squad before it was confirmed he would not be fit to play following a collision with Phil Jones in training, was invited.

But Manchester United insisted he needed treatment in Carrington and his failure to make the 48-mile trip to St George’s Park from his Cheshire home fuels speculation this could be the end of the international road for the 31-year-old.

The journey ahead for the rest of the squad is an interesting one, if they buy into Southgate’s rhetoric. New arrival James Ward-Prowse did – although he also admitted he had heard it before.

“It was a very powerful message,” he said. “We want to be the best in the world. If you want to win major tournaments, then you’ve got to become that sort of team.

“We want to establish ourselves as a top team in the world so it is all about plugging away at those goals and making sure that what we do now stands us in good stead for when we reach major tournaments.

“In every department – the medical side of it, technical and tactical, the operations and the way we things work – we all want to be the best and make sure we give ourselves a chance to succeed.

“It is a speech that the Under-21s have received before [from former manager Southgate], highlighted about the highs and lows of a career and the ambitions that he sees for us.”

Perhaps the players were not listening as well last time – Southgate’s side finished bottom of their group at the 2015 European Championships despite being one of the top two seeds.

That is perhaps why a more established player like Jamie Vardy is a little bit more circumspect.

“I don’t think there is any reason to be shy of saying it,” he said. “But you also need to be putting the performances on the pitch if you are going to say it. You can’t be saying it and then not performing on the pitch.

“So we’ll look forward to the Germany game and try and get a win and hopefully it will put us in good stead to move on to the Lithuania game.

“If we’re all at 100 per cent and all on top of our game we can give any single team in the world a game and we know we can beat them on the day so there’s no harm thinking it can be done.

“But we know the work has got to be put in and make sure we’ve put it in on the pitch to do it.”

Even Southgate admits there will be lows as well as highs and he did not shy away from showing footage of his own penalty miss against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final penalty shoot-out as part of the presentation to the squad.

“The penalty was on there,” Vardy confirmed. “He didn’t go into much detail but he wanted it to be on there to show how far he has come as well. Obviously, his being in that situation, to have his knowledge of that can benefit us quite a lot.

“There were highlights and clips from the past as well and when things have not gone right, and he talked about how we can use them to help us keep progressing.

“We were looking forward to the World Cup and beyond and what basically we want to achieve as a squad together.”

That brings things back to Vardy’s initial point – it will be the talking on the pitch that ultimately matters. And even a win against Germany in their own backyard means nothing – after all, Roy Hodgson’s side did precisely that three months before the debacle of the European Championships.

And what hope has Rooney got of making it down that long and winding road if the A523 proved too much of an obstacle?

Posted on; Express.co.uk>>

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