John Stones has no doubt that Wayne Rooney remains a key man for England.
Manchester United skipper Rooney will retain the England captaincy under interim manager Gareth Southgate despite poor performances this season that have resulted in him losing his starting spot at club level.
The 30-year-old has expressed his dissatisfaction over Sam Allardyce’s assertion that he could play “wherever he wants” following a mixed showing as a deep-lying midfielder in the 1-0 win over Slovakia last month.
That World Cup qualifier proved to be Allardyce’s sole game in charge after comments made to undercover Daily Telegraph reporters cost him his job last week.
Rooney remains central to England, amid debate over his best position – the player himself favours a midfield conversion as he enters the latter stages of his career – but Manchester City centre-back Stones spoke warmly of his leadership and influence over a young England squad ahead of Saturday’s Group F meeting with Malta at Wembley.
“Having players like Wayne Rooney around is massive, giving us pointers,” he told a news conference.
“They’ve been there, done it. It’s good that we all get on, it doesn’t matter the age or what club you pay for.
“Wayne is definitely still a key man, and is always fully focused when we comes here.”
Stones reported a positive atmosphere among the squad despite recent events and he is at ease with Southgate’s methods having played under the former Aston Villa and Middlesbrough defender with England Under-21s.
“I think we all know what we expect, but it’s always good to have a one-on-one with the manager,” he said.
“It’s been quite similar to be honest, having worked with him for the Under-21s. He knows us all.
“It’s been a good few days and everyone seems happy. Everyone is fighting for their starting spot and there’s always healthy competition which is great.
“Getting called up for your country is the biggest honour as a player, so all we can do is try our best.”
Stones’ position on the blue side of the Manchester divide this season has not stopped him from admiring the rapid rise of Marcus Rashford, with the 18-year-old Manchester United striker back in the senior fold after a hat-trick for Southgate’s Under-21s versus Norway last month.
“I have been massively impressed with him,” Stones added. “He brings something different to the team. I’m glad to see him back.”