Wayne won’t do a light day

Gary Neville says Wayne Rooney has an incredible enthusiasm for football and just loves playing the game whenever he can.

The striker, who has bagged 39 goals in 93 appearances for England, featured for the full 90 minutes in Saturday’s World Cup opening loss to Italy.

Following a recovery session back at the team hotel in Rio on Sunday, a number of players continued their two-day post-match recovery on Monday. 

Gary Neville

Gary Neville is impressed with Rooney’s enthusiasm

However, Rooney requested additional training and worked with a wider group of players when they returned to their training base in Urca. 

And England coach Neville, a former team-mate of Rooney’s at Manchester United, admits the 28-year-old has always had that hunger for football.

“I played with him for six or seven years – you couldn’t get him to do a light day, that’s his character,” said Neville. 

“He’s a street footballer in the sense that he just wants to play every second of every day. 

“The players all have individually programmes that they follow, but he has an enthusiasm for football that is incredible. He’s been like that since the moment I first played against him when he was a young Everton kid.” 

Neville, who himself played for the Three Lions on  85 occasions between 1995 and 2007, has seen a number of stars become the focus of attention during tournaments and says it’s something ‘big players’ like Rooney should come to expect.

“Every time I’ve been a part of a tournament for England – this is my seventh – I’ve never known there not to be an obsession around one player,” said the former defender. 

“It was Gascoigne from 1996 to 1998, Beckham from 2000 to 2006. From 2006, it was Rooney and Beckham. Now it’s Rooney to 2014. 

“We love creating drama around one player, our country loves it. We have to blame one man coming out of a tournament and we have to get onto one man during the tournament. 

“This time it’s Wayne Rooney, but that comes with the territory of being a big player.” 

England players congratulate Daniel Sturridge

Rooney celebrates after setting up Sturridge’s goal against Italy

Despite defeat to Italy on Saturday, Neville insists England’s performance was one of the best he’s witnessed in recent years.

Goals from Claudio Marchisio and Mario Balotelli either side of Daniel Sturridge’s close-range finish gave the Italians 2-1 victory in Manaus.

Rooney provided the assist for the Liverpool striker to score, while he had a great chance for himself to level matters in the second half, but dragged his shot just wide of the post.

“Seeing Wayne every day in training – he is a very important player,” insists Neville. “He is our top goalscorer in the last two years under Roy, he’s our main assists man and, but for a yard the other night, he probably would have been man of the match. They are the fine lines we are talking about at this level.”

Neville continued: “The football was some of the best football I’ve seen in ten or 15 years in a competitive World Cup match or European Championship match. 

“In times when we’ve beaten teams – we beat Argentina, we beat Germany – I felt it was a resilient performance, I felt it was a performance where we were backs to the wall, dig in, get that goal and hang on. 

“Relating to the game two years ago [at Euro 2012], when I felt we were on the ropes with our gloves up, defending for 12 rounds but losing on points, the other night we won a few rounds. It doesn’t win a football match but in terms of the bigger picture we see where we are going. 

Roy Hodgson and Gary Neville

Gary Neville with Roy Hodgson at Urca

“It doesn’t disguise the disappointment existing in this group on Sunday. I was watching and thinking, this is actually a top football match. This doesn’t feel like the first game in a World Cup – if feels like a quarter-final.” 

He added: “You live with risk and reward. The manager has been very brave and bold in his selections and when you live in a game like that sometimes it can go the other way. 

“We could easily have drawn or won that game, barring the fine lines. We didn’t just defend and didn’t just put our gloves up and see it out. We did things in the game that shocked them I think.”