Wayne Rooney is finally enjoying his football with England again now Fabio Capello has the team fulfilling their potential in a way previous regimes failed to. Rooney has directly benefited from the change in mentality Capello has instilled, scoring seven goals in his last five international games and heads into tomorrow's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ clash against Kazakhstan brimming with confidence.
Extending their 100 per cent record in Group 6 with victory in Almaty and another against Andorra at Wembley on Wednesday will have England within touching distance of South Africa 2010. Their recent results have also put the smile back on Rooney's face, who frankly admits England previously have not been as good as people built them up to be.
"I'm enjoying playing for England a lot more," he said. "It's been a bit frustrating in previous times but at this moment I'm enjoying it more than ever."
I'm enjoying playing for England a lot more. It's been a bit frustrating in previous times but at this moment I'm enjoying it more than ever,
Rooney, outlining why he was left frustrated, added: "At times, the way we played. We weren't as good as we all thought. There were a lot of expectations and we didn't deliver. That was frustrating at times. The way we're playing makes you enjoy it, as well as winning.
"The manager is a strong manager and his demands on us are obvious. You're wary now but in previous tournaments, two years before the start, we've gone into them saying we've got to win this or that. We didn't get close. We're aware of that now. We know what work we need to do."
Not much has changed in terms of players recently - apart from Michael Owen being out of the frame - but the big difference is Capello. Rooney added: "His record that he's got is brilliant. We all understand and respect what he's trying to do. We're trying to move this country forward.
"The early signs are certainly good. If we can continue that by qualifying for this World Cup, I'm sure he'll get all his preparations right and give us our best chance to win this trophy."
So there cannot be any argument about Capello decisions? Rooney still feels Owen could eventually make a dramatic return to the squad. "He's a top player who's had a difficult time over the last year with injuries," Rooney said. "When he's fully fit, he'll give himself a chance to get back into this international squad."
Owen once looked like he would cruise past Sir Bobby Charlton's England record of 49 goals but has found himself stuck nine behind. With 21 himself, Rooney looks like he will get a chance of establishing a new benchmark is he carries on at his rate and also develops a selfish edge to his game.
I'd love to be the leading England goalscorer. I'm still a long way away, but it's something I've got in my mind,
"I'd love to be the leading England goalscorer," he said. "I'm still a long way away, but it's something I've got in my mind and I'd be privileged to become that. As a forward player, you need to selfish if you're going to score the goals you want. Maybe I do need to be more selfish if I'm going to be playing in the role I want to be playing."
The role Rooney likes playing is supporting a striker. While he is not always deployed there for Manchester United, he starts there for England and mid-match will swap with Steven Gerrard on the left wing.
"The position I play for England is, as I've said, the one I like playing most," he said. "Obviously, I haven't played that position for a while for United. It's the manager's choice, but I've always said my best position is playing up front. So I'm enjoying doing that."
Kazakhstan is a trip to the unknown for England's players but they are fully aware of how they will be pressed on Saturday at Central Stadium. Rooney has been adjusting his body clock to the five-hour time difference by watching DVDs, with probably the most important being the one Capello showed the squad of Kazakhstan's performance at Wembley earlier in the season when they went into the interval goalless.
England are still expected to win comfortably against the team ranked 132nd in the world. Rooney has the added incentive of getting last week's UEFA Champions League final defeat out of his system. "It did hurt when we lost," he said. "That left a bitter taste in the mouth but overall we won three trophies and that's a successful season.
"Obviously we're disappointed with the Champions League, but that'll be our aim now - to win that again. Look at (Paolo) Maldini - he's played in eight finals."