Wayne Rooney was at the Dubai Sports Council to talk about England's chances at the World Cup in Qatar next month. Image Credit: Imran Malik / Gulf News

You can see it in his eyes. England’s all-time top goal scorer Wayne Rooney may have retired from the beautiful game, but the former Everton and Manchester United star would dearly love to be involved in the World Cup in Qatar.

With 53 goals to his name for the Three Lions, Rooney knew how to find the back of the net - but he will be hoping the current crop can find their form following a dreadful run.

The showpiece is just weeks away and the current DC United coach has been concerned with Gareth Southgate’s side. England’s last three UEFA Nations League matches have not gone to plan at all. They were thrashed 4-0 by Hungary before being beaten 1-0 by Italy. And against Germany they came back from 2-0 down to take a 3-2 lead only to be pegged back for a draw.

Right back

Rooney, who across nearly a decade and a half at Old Trafford scored 253 goals in 559 appearances, believes Southgate must get his squad selection spot on. But England have problems in defence what with Reece James ruled out through injury and possibly Kyle Walker too. “I think the simple solution is to play Trent-Alexander Arnold,” says Rooney who stopped by the Dubai Sports Council offices this week. “He is the best right back England have got – what he gives you going forward is something none of the other full backs can give.”

Rooney (right) in action for United against Chelsea's John Terry.

Rooney, who also managed Derby County, says he likes to set up his teams to play on the front foot and he feels the Liverpool defender is the best option. “I’m a coach who always wants to be positive and try and be offensive and get the best players on the pitch. And Trent is certainly one of those. Kieron Trippier is a fantastic player but in my opinion we need to play Trent to give us at that attacking threat.”

England made it to the semifinal of the 2018 World Cup and got to the Euro 2020 final and many are tipping them to shine in Qatar. “We have a squad that is capable of making it to the final and winning the trophy - but then again so have Argentina, Brazil and France. I think you need that little bit of luck to go all the way.”

It will be a little odd to have a World Cup held in November rather than the usual summer months and it will be the first time it is staged in the Middle East. But Rooney is looking forward to the big kick off. “Playing in November will be fine. Obviously it’s different to what we are used to but to have it in November means the players will be in the best shape. If you look at the stats form November to February is when footballers are at their peak. So we potentially could see one of the best World Cups in terms of quality and energy.”

The one-time Toffees starlet who was in the club’s academy from age 9 went on to become the youngest ever goal scorer in the English Premier League at just 16. Now 37, he is enjoying the second phase of his career with his American club who he will bring to Dubai in January for 3 weeks of pre-season training. He says he has learnt plenty from his previous manager Sir Alex Ferguson and often uses the Scot’s infamous hairdryer treatment on his players but knows he can’t always do this anymore. “I’ve raised my voice to my players but society has changed a lot and you have to be careful with what you say and do especially with social media watching your every move!”

New role

Having played for DC United during the 2018-19 season and grabbing 23 goals from 48 games, he knows his role is totally different now to what it used to be. “Before I became the coach I knew all of the players and the staff from when I played for the club. But now I have put many friendships aside for the better of the team. I can’t mingle with the players like I did before and play golf with them or go out to dinner - I don’t want the other players to think there is any favoritism going on. They are high-profile players but at the end of the day I am dealing with people and they come from very different background so you have to learn how to get the best out of them and to build a relationship with them.”

Rooney says his most influential coach was former Everton player and manager Colin Harvey and had it not been for him he wouldn’t have made it as a professional footballer. “When I was a young boy I was going down the wrong route, I was partying with my friends every night and not concentrating on football. Colin took me under his wing and guided me. He got me focusing on developing my game.” It did the trick. Rooney got 15 goals and was suddenly the star of the team.

Wayne Rooney and Alex Ferguson
Wayne Rooney and Alex Ferguson Image Credit: AP

A move to United followed where he won five Premier League titles, the UEFA Champions League, the Europa League and the FA Cup. This period in is career saw him become the all-time leading goal scorer of both United and England. He says Ferguson gave him the best advice ever. “He said the best talent you can have in life is hard work, and that has always stuck with me. Now, I tell my DC United players this all the time.”

Dubai training camps

Rooney has been to several training camps in Dubai and says it is great to see the popularity of the game growing here. He first came to the UAE in 2004 and says there now is a massive difference in terms of the facilities and football pitches compared to almost two decades ago. “They are world class now and I’ve met many children here who are aspiring to get into football. There is a huge appetite here for football to grow and hopefully over the next few years it will continues to do so. The quality of the players here is good and so it is important to help them to develop.”

Speaking of developing, this is something Rooney plans to continue doing as a coach and he says he would love to come back to the Premier League some day and take the hot seat at either Goodison Park or Old Trafford. “I am still a young coach and I am gaining experience and trying to improve myself but I would love to come back to England and manage either Everton or United. I’m not looking to jump at that at the first opportunity – I need to develop and improve first with DC United before one of those big jobs come around.”