England cannot replace Rooney
Fabio Capello's success in rebuilding England allows him to publicly outline plans to adopt "Style A, Style B or Style C" without fear of reducing his assembled audience to laughter.
Capello, with a World Cup place safely secured, held court at Arsenal's London Colney training headquarters before England's final qualifier against Belarus at Wembley and explained how flexibility will be a crucial factor in South Africa.
Heady days indeed for seasoned England observers who would have struggled to detect "Style A" under previous regimes, even with the benefit of a high-intensity microscope, and a small insight into Capello's meticulous methods.
Capello gets the chance to implement one of his alternative strategies against Belarus - but it is one he will never want to use again in competitive combat, especially if England harbour serious hopes of winning the World Cup next summer.
Namely, it is the plan that forces Capello to make allowances for the absence of an injured Wayne Rooney. No Rooney for an experimental qualifier is one thing. No Rooney for a World Cup game is another.
Capello does not do "irreplaceable" - but if he did he would do it for the Manchester United striker. And if anyone cares to mount a case against this theory, a cursory glance at the list of potential replacements must convince them otherwise.
If Rooney is fit and in form England are contenders to win the World Cup. If he is not they are not - it is as stark as that.
Rooney listens to Capello during Saturday's game in Ukraine
England's attacking partnership against Belarus looks certain to be Peter Crouch and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Crouch and Agbonlahor are both fine Premier League performers, indeed the Spurs forward has a more presentable international scoring rate than the seemingly untouchable Emile Heskey, but they do not possess the fear factor Rooney strikes into world-class defenders.
They are part of a supporting cast that will audition over the next few months in the hope of booking a seat on the plane to South Africa, with the possibility of a bit more besides if Heskey does not perform.
Capello, like other fine football minds such as former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier, is in thrall to what Heskey offers, namely a physical presence, a willingness to carry out orders to the letter and a selflessness that can benefit the more stellar talents such as Rooney and, in the past, Michael Owen.
Heskey admits he may have to leave Aston Villa to stop his World Cup ambitions being wrecked by a lack of action. Martin O'Neill will not make sacrifices to satisfy Heskey's international hopes, and it may mean a step down for the striker because he will not be a target for the top four.
He has been linked with former club Liverpool, but he is hardly more likely to oust Fernando Torres than he is John Carew. And even Capello may be forced to take a view on Heskey if he adds a lack of games to his other Achilles heel, a lack of goals.
Carlton Cole and Darren Bent, a hugely effective Premier League striker, have not presented compelling evidence that they are international class strikers. And while Jermain Defoe will be in the squad, he is seen as an impact player as opposed to a partner for Rooney.
And then we come to Michael Owen. Owen reminded us why England should select him when he poached Manchester United's winner against Manchester City - then reminded us why they should not when he limped off early against Wolfsburg in the Champions League.
If Owen is fit and scoring goals he must go the World Cup. Note the "if" here is a very large one.
This lack of an obvious second striker makes Capello's determination to devise a series of tactical approaches even more wise. Every one, however, will have Rooney firmly at its epicentre. Every one would be weakened by his absence.
Rooney has the self-confidence, and more importantly the ability, to believe that the World Cup is his natural environment. England cannot do without that sort of attitude.
After passing a fitness test on a foot injury before the World Cup in 2006, Rooney arrived back at England's base at the Schlosshotel Buhlerhohe in Baden-Baden with the words: "The big man's back in town."
Sadly for England the big man was not fit and his tournament fizzled out well before he was sent off for stamping on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho in the quarter-finals.
England captain John Terry did not play down how vital Rooney is to the cause when he admitted in his post-match briefing at London Colney: "It is a chance for us to play without him, and a chance for the manager to try one or two more players up front, but he will be sorely missed.
"We have seen him mature as a player in the last two years. He has grown up and taken a lot of responsibility."
Rooney has the pace, power and goalscoring ability to spearhead England's World Cup bid. He has the intelligence to link all parts of the team - no-one else at Capello's disposal has these qualities.
He is also, despite his relatively tender years, a huge dressing room influence. The noisy, exuberant Scouser has a self-confidence that is infectious and inspires even more experienced team-mates.
Rooney also has the incentive, after a string of superlative performances as an England fledgling in Euro 2004 were cut short when he broke his foot against Portugal in another quarter-final and injury reduced his effectiveness in Germany two years later.
He will not want disappointment at a major tournament again and England should be the beneficiaries.
Capello's own inner belief would not be shaken should anything deprive him of Rooney - but he is shrewd enough to know how integral he is to plan A, B, C or any other he conjures up.
The Italian was in buoyant mood ahead of the conclusion of an excellent qualifying campaign - but once again he declared England have achieved "nothing" and revealed he had spoken to defender Rio Ferdinand about his latest high-profile error, against the Ukraine.
Capello did not sound like had delivered the hard word - he is too big an admirer of Ferdinand to do that just yet - but, like the Don making you the offer you cannot refuse, the message was clear. No repeats.
He will get the opportunity to show Capello's words have hit home when he partners John Terry in central defence against Belarus.
For Rooney, it is a night off and a role as an interested spectator. For England it is a glimpse into a world they will not want to contemplate when the serious action gets under way next summer.
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