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Rooney vows to keep temper in check
Wayne Rooney will follow in the footsteps of legends on Friday night when he captains England in a competitive international for the first time, insisting the flashes of temper that scarred the early period of his career are a thing of the past.
With Steven Gerrard ruled out through suspension and Frank Lampard missing with a knee problem which leaves him doubtful for Tuesday's crucial trip to Poland, Rooney will inherit the armband.
The 26-year-old is a logical choice, although some did feel Joe Hart would have been less of a risk. But the Manchester United striker said: "I have cut out a lot of the silly tackles and mistakes I made as a young player. I don't want to be making the wrong type of headlines and missing games I don't want to be missing."
His crime sheet includes two four-letter tirades at TV cameras, one after England's goalless draw with Algeria in Cape Town at the last World Cup, and also the needless dismissal in Montenegro last year that led to him being suspended for the first two matches of England's Euro 2012 campaign.
The negative impact of that behaviour did not become fully apparent until Roy Hodgson's side reached Poland and Ukraine, and Rooney's two sluggish displays. Now as the 26-year-old assumes even greater responsibility beyond simply being England's best player, Rooney is confident there will be no repeat.
"What happened in Montenegro was stupid," he said. "I regretted it as soon as I'd done it. It won't be happening again, I can promise. The thing against Algeria was partly to do with looking for a way to justify my own performance. Since then, I've matured more as a player and a person."
Although a combative individual by instinct, it is easy to think of Rooney being a leader through deed rather than word. However, the example he immediately comes up with when asked which captain has inspired him the most is someone who had a temper as ferocious as his legendary will to win.
"Roy Keane, without doubt," he said. "He was a great captain, vocal on the pitch and helpful off it. He didn't scare me. I respected him. He was one of the best players in the Premier League and Manchester United history."
Inspiration should not be required against the world's joint worst team on Friday, but if the Three Lions are struggling against San Marino, Rooney will be required to rally the troops and score the goals. It is a heavy responsibility - but one Hodgson is confident the Manchester United man can carry.
"The expectations for Wayne, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are a bit higher than those playing their third, fourth or fifth game," said Hodgson. It's a cross top players have to bear. But I had no hesitation thinking Wayne could handle it and it didn't occur to me to give the captaincy to anyone else. He deserves it."