Rooney can shine in Sturridge's shadow
Pool striker can get the best out of England's No. 10 in Brazil
For the first time, Wayne Rooney is where he needs to be ahead of a major tournament - in the shadows and almost neglected.
If he's not quite the forgotten man, he's certainly no more than a first among near equals.
The hopes of a global nation of England fans no longer rest entirely on his broad shoulders. Daniel Sturridge can also bear the burden. A striking problem shared is a problem halved.
And the Three Lions haven't had a problem quite like Rooney for a generation.
Ahead of every tournament since his initial explosion at Euro 2004, he flew out of England as the great white hope. He usually returned as a reviled fat dope.
Neither description was entirely deserved, saying more perhaps about the fickle followers of English football rather than its fluctuating fortunes. Nevertheless, the stats are inescapable.
Rooney heads to his third World Cup Finals with not a goal to his name. Not a single strike in eight appearances. It's not for the want of trying, but for the want of a reliable strike partner.
In 1966, Geoff Hurst profited from the selfless, tireless running of Roger Hunt. Peter Beardsley roamed mischievously around the poaching Gary Lineker at Italia'90 and Teddy Sheringham probed while Alan Shearer plundered when football almost came "home" at Euro 96.
Coincidental or not, England's three most productive outings at major tournaments all benefited from double acts and attacking tandems.
Even Michael Owen admitted that his pace was neutered without the powerful support of Emile Heskey.
But Rooney mostly ploughed a lone furrow, sometimes injured and emotionally volatile. He was all dressed up in his whites with no one to play with; a born street-fighter with no accomplices. He was hung out to dry.
Last weekend, Roy Hodgson gave an interesting analogy that inadvertently hinted at Rooney's shortcomings rather than his strengths.
The England manager compared the veteran striker to Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson; actors who became superstars and were then expected to make only great movies because they were superstars.
Rooney is arguably at his least effective when he plays the superstar.
When the ego runs rampant, when the desire to dominate at any cost prevails, tactical discipline gives way to the headless chicken.
The tiresome British bulldog cliche, peddled by foaming flag wavers, champions full-bloodied tackling and lots of screaming, gritted teeth and hearts on sleeves. Rooney's terrific at all of that in an England jersey.
He's just not particularly good at scoring goals.
Rooney is the renegade detective in every bad buddy cop movie. Any time now, Hodgson must play the grizzled, desk-bound police chief and order his hotshot loose cannon to simmer down with a new partner. If he fouls up this time, the chief will take away his Three Lions badge.
But, if Rooney feels like he's breaking in a new partner, it is Sturridge who requires the greater adjustment.
After a season luxuriating in the soothing company of that freakish, football force of nature from Uruguay, Rooney might resemble the rookie.
Luis Suarez's remarkable goal and assist stats were due in large part to his positional discipline.
He was granted freedom within limits by Brendan Rodgers.
He rotated places with Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, often to target a susceptible fullback, but the switching served an overriding strategy.
Suarez seldom dropped back into Liverpool's half to retrieve possession or clattered a fullback near his own corner flag.
That wasn't his job. That isn't his way. That's the British bulldog way.
Like David Beckham before him, Rooney's superstar status is counter-productive when he's indulged on the tactics board.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello at Real Madrid got the best from Beckham by dumping him on the right flank in a straitjacket.
Hodgson should be similarly forthright with Rooney. As the deeper-lying striker, he supports only Sturridge and Raheem Sterling and the selected midfielders directly behind him.
If he plays rogue cop and dashes back to protect and serve his defenders, Sturridge will be left isolated.
Rooney knows that feeling. He should channel that feeling.
For years, England's lone striker communicated with his older, slower teammates via carrier pigeon. He was not blessed by the presence of youthful exuberance.
Youth is no longer on his side, but it's finally in his side.
He's positively surrounded by the pace and potential that he epitomised back in 2004. Sturridge shares his muscular presence, instinctive goal awareness and necessary selfishness.
When Rooney looks across the penalty box in Brazil, it'll be like looking in a mirror.
Sturridge must now do for his country what Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie did for Manchester United. Get the best out of his No. 10.
Rooney really doesn't need to be the superstar.
He just needs Sturridge.
We’ve seen an awful lot of Sturridge-Suarez partnership but not a lot of Rooney-Sturridge partnership because they haven’t had a lot of time to. Now’s our chance.
- England manager Roy Hodgson on Thursday
England's other double acts
Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt
After Jimmy Greaves' injury deprived the 1966 line-up of arguably the greatest English finisher of all-time, the double "H" partnership were thrown together.
Prolific for Liverpool, Hunt never scored at the tournament. But his off-the-ball running created enough space for Hurst to make hat-trick history in the final.
Peter Beardsley and Gary Lineker
From the late 1980s until Italia'90, they were a treat to watch.
Lineker was lethal in the six-yard box, Beardsley's incisive passing ensured his strike partner didn't have to retreat from that area.
Lineker was the last of the great poachers. Beardsley was arguably ahead of his time as a No. 10 floating behind the main man.
Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham
The complete striker and the striking conjurer, England's SAS formed the most attractive playing side since 1970.
Shearer's long-term injury denied England a place at the 1994 World Cup, but he made amends at Euro96, scoring a goal in the semi-finals.
The Three Lions fell short, but their front two had been scintillating to watch.
Emile Heskey and Michael Owen
At the turn of the century, England had Little and Large. A shy giant of a man, Heskey said little and sometimes scored even less.
But as a foil for the diminutive Owen, the pair occasionally captivated like Mills and Boon.
Heskey was like Andy Carroll in the sense that he was good in the air. He was also stronger, more adept, scored more goals and created more for his partners. So, really, he was nothing like Carroll.