Gareth Southgate denied Wayne Rooney’s absence from England’s 2-2 friendly draw against Spain had anything to do with a tabloid story alleging he took part in a heavy drinking session at the team’s hotel.
Rooney captained the Three Lions in their 3-0 World Cup qualifying win over Scotland on Friday but sustained a minor knee injury, causing him to miss training on Sunday and Monday before returning to Manchester United on the eve of Tuesday’s match.
Reports by the Sun newspaper claimed Rooney spent Saturday night “drinking red wine and beer with members of the FA” at England’s Grove hotel base in Watford until the early hours of the morning.
When asked about the allegations at his post-match news conference, interim manager Southgate insisted Rooney’s exit from the squad was purely on fitness grounds.
“Wayne was injured in the game on Friday, couldn’t train on Sunday and that’s it,” he said.
In the final match of his temporary spell in charge, Southgate’s side made a compelling case for the former Middlesbrough boss to become Sam Allardyce’s successor on a permanent basis.
Liverpool attacker Adam Lallana continued his rich vein of form for club and country by netting an eighth-minute penalty and Jamie Vardy doubled England’s lead early in the second half.
But Spain stuck diligently to their task and were rewarded when debutant Iago Aspas and Isco struck in a thrilling finish.
“I think that’s for other people to say,” Southgate replied when asked whether he had done enough to remain in the England dugout.
“All I can say from my point of view is this has been a brilliant experience. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the players and I can see the potential in the group
“When we came in it was a moment of instability and we’ve brought stability back and laid a platform for the team to move forward. I’m proud to have led the country for a couple of really important games and experienced what that feels like
“I’ve proved to myself that I can manage big matches and prepare tactically, with my staff, a team to face a top side and give them tough test.”
Even allowing for the late collapse, the sight of Lallana limping off following a challenge with Thiago Alcantara was arguably the biggest blot on England’s evening in light of his early influence.
“He’s being assessed by the medical staff. It’s a shame,” Southgate added, without being able to put a timeframe on any absence for the former Southampton player.
“He’s an intelligent footballer, a very talented footballer who is now starting to add goals to his game for England. He was key to how we wanted to play tonight.”