Wayne Rooney 'witch-hunt' angers ex-England star

Wayne Rooney England friendly

Phil Neville has come out to defend Wayne Rooney's inclusion in the England starting XI by describing calls to drop him as a witch-hunt.

The 28-year-old striker's place in Roy Hodgson's side has been up for debate with many calling him to be replaced for Saturday's game against Italy with younger stars, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling coming in.

However, Rooney has received support in the form of a former Manchester United and England star.

Phil Neville told BBC Sport: "I just think it is a witch-hunt we don't need."

"Everything has been going so well with the team's preparation that people are looking for a negative now. But there isn't a negative with Wayne."

Neville's former teammate Paul Scholes last week suggested in his Paddy Power column that Rooney may be past his peak at just 28-years-old, but Neville refutes those claims. 

"There is a side of the English mentality to say 'let's look for a scapegoat and somebody to criticise'," said Neville. "But Wayne is our best player and that's a fact."

Despite the Manchester Utd forward top scoring for England in qualifying with seven goals, pressure to remove him from the starting XI has increased. 

After Sterling's impressive performances for Liverpool last season, and his apparent brilliance in England training , some unfits and fans want him to play in behind Daniel Sturridge. His ability to close down Andrea Pirlo and link up play with Sturridge, seems to many, a sensible decision. 

Barkley's push for a starting place was heightened after strong outings against Ecuador and Honduras in Miami, but both he and Sterling aren't proven at international level. Sterling also showed a level of inexperience after his high challenge on Antonio Valencia against Ecuador led to a sending off. 

Neville added: "He looks fit and lean and I do not understand why people want him out. Hopefully this criticism will be Wayne's motivation. I just get annoyed by it all and it sounds like Roy Hodgson is getting annoyed by it all too."

Neville is not the only person backing Rooney, with Jose Mourinho, a long time admirer of the former Everton striker stating he feels Rooney can be the star of the World Cup

The Chelsea boss said when speaking to Yahoo: "Wayne is right when he says this is his World Cup, he is not a kid anymore, he is not an old player at the end of his career, he is in what I call the best age."

It is true Rooney has not scored in eight World Cup appearances, but he was unfit in both Germany and South Africa. This time he has worked hard to be in the best shape possible, he even hired a personal trainer for his holiday, and you feel he is desperate to prove, on the biggest stage of all, that he is one of the world's greatest players. 

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