Terrific Henderson shames tame Rooney
Liverpool midfielder outshines fading skipper to earn England victory
(Daniel Sturridge 29, Dele Alli 38)
Wayne Rooney's international obituary is being slyly written by one of his own teammates.
The better Jordan Henderson becomes, the less relevant Rooney looks in an England shirt.
Henderson left Wembley with a couple of assists and a growing reputation as the Three Lions huffed and puffed to a 2-0 victory over Malta this morning (Singapore time).
Rooney left with that question mark hanging over his weary head.
England's World Cup qualifying campaign continues in Slovenia next week and new coach Gareth Southgate already faces the eternal conundrum that puzzled his predecessors.
What does he do with his captain, record goal-scorer and legend?
Rooney is all three. The trouble is he is neither a striker nor a midfielder. He's neither here nor there and his on-going identity crisis will again dominate coverage in the coming days.
Playing alongside his skipper in central midfield, Henderson was assured, unflappable and refreshingly energetic in an otherwise sterile contest.
His rising reputation for both club and country mirrors his game, quietly effective, growing in confidence and increasingly irreplaceable.
But if Southgate entertains the prospect of picking Eric Dier against Slovenia, the most natural defensive midfielder of the three, then it's a battle between Man-of-the-Match Henderson and a stuttering skipper for the other slot.
Once again, an England manager finds himself with a Rooney muddle of his own making.
Indeed, Southgate displayed a risk-averse approach typical of Sam Allardyce and Roy Hodgson.
Surprisingly, he left Marcus Rashford on the bench against distinctly ordinary opposition.
There was no chance of an upset.
Malta are ranked 176th in the world and recently suffered a 5-1 whipping against Scotland.
They stretched five defenders across the Wembley turf, dropped three midfield anchors just in front and considered England's penalty box toxic.
And yet, Southgate played safe, going for a conventional 4-3-3 that accommodated the usual suspects and, inevitably, Rooney.
Jesse Lingard was the only mildly surprising inclusion on the left side of England's front three, but he was a regular with Southgate's Under-21s and the two enjoy an amicable working relationship.
But, if the formation appeared to justify Rooney's presence, the line-up liberated Henderson.
His fine form at Liverpool followed him to Wembley, where he delivered the kind of swashbuckling performance that once typified an old teammate.
Steven Gerrard's gradual decline at Liverpool often obscured Henderson's steady rise.
But the 26-year-old Henderson is increasingly stepping out of his old master's shadow.
Malta were obviously limited, but Henderson's influence was no less impressive, playing a pivotal role in England's two goals.
In the 29th minute, his excellent cross, driven towards the far post, was met with an equally fine header from Daniel Sturridge.
The striker steered his looping effort into the opposite corner, to check the encroaching tedium.
In truth, most of the match was characteristically dull, with England mostly reproducing the plodding fare served up in France.
Rooney meandered rather than menaced, leaving it to Henderson to provide the elusive dynamism.
He surged into the box in the 38th minute and slipped a pass to Dele Alli. The Tottenham playmaker tapped home after his initial strike was saved.
Andrew Hogg, in Malta goal's, pulled off several decent stops either side of the break to keep the scoreline respectable.
At the other end, Joe Hart could have brought his headphones and worked on his Italian pronunciation.
But it's England's midfield that remains slightly lost in translation.
Apart from Rooney, both Theo Walcott and Lingard rarely tested an obdurate but very average defence.
In fact, the Three Lions' attacking play was typically laboured and predictable, even more so when Rooney took possession of the ball.
The second half slowed so dramatically that even Hart was called upon in the 82nd minute to push around Andrei Agius' effort.
An easy victory and a new coach will not conceal another unadventurous England performance that ended at walking pace.
Old habits die hard, particularly when older players don't retire.
Southgate got his victory. Validation will only come when he succeeds where others failed by dropping Rooney and relying on the next generation.
England's future belongs with midfielders like Henderson, rather than the fading ghosts of tournaments past.
Southgate in tax avoidance dispute
England interim manager Gareth Southgate is among hundreds of rich clients caught up in a multi-million-pound tax avoidance dispute with British authorities, a newspaper reported on Friday, on the eve of his first match in charge.
Southgate (above) invested in two partnerships set up by a film investment fund, Ingenious, which is accused by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) of being part of an elaborate scheme to avoid paying tax, the Daily Mirror reported.
A source close to the former England player told AFP that he made the investments in 2004 in good faith and would not challenge any tax demand that might arise when the case was resolved.
But the timing is embarrassing for the 46-year-old and for the Football Association, the English game's governing body, as they hope to draw a line under former manager Sam Allardyce's controversial exit.
Southgate took charge of England for the first time in this morning's (Singapore time) World Cup qualifier against Malta, barely a fortnight after his predecessor quit in disgrace after just 67 days and one game at the helm.
Allardyce, 61, was secretly filmed by undercover reporters giving advice on how to circumnavigate transfer rules and mocking England predecessor Roy Hodgson.
Appointed England manager on a £3 million ($5.12m)-a-year contract, Allardyce also agreed to travel to Singapore and Hong Kong as an ambassador for their fictitious firm for a fee of £400,000.
According to the Daily Mirror, Southgate is one of about 400 rich clients of Ingenious, a movie financing firm that has backed films such as Avatar but which is accused of creating artificial losses to help investors avoid tax.
Following a tribunal ruling this year, investors are facing a bill for £434m in unpaid tax, plus interest and legal fees, according to the Mirror.
Ingenious denies it operated as a tax avoidance scheme.
A spokesman for the FA told AFP: "This is a private matter."
Meanwhile, The Times newspaper reported that England captain Wayne Rooney is facing a £3.5m tax bill after a separate film investment partnership in which he put his money was also accused of tax avoidance.
"Wayne's tax affairs have always been conducted in full compliance with the law," a spokesman told the newspaper. - AFP.