Fabio Capello believes Wayne Rooney's FIFA World Cup™ drought is down to a "mental" problem.
Rooney has failed to score in six appearances on football's biggest stage - two here and four in Germany four years ago - and was a shadow of his normal self during England's disappointing 0-0 draw against Algeria on Friday. But England's head coach has dismissed speculation that the striker, who has suffered a series of niggles in the wake of a more serious ankle injury he suffered at the end of March, is not 100 per cent fit.
The Algeria stalemate has left England needing to beat Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday to be sure of reaching the last 16 and Capello has little option but to keep faith with the forward he regards as England's most precious asset.
"Wayne is a good player," Capello said. "He is always dangerous for the other team. For the movement and everything. He lost a lot of balls and a lot of passes (against Algeria) but he is still an important player. He is completely fit. He trained. He stayed on the pitch for as long as any other player. He is perfect. The problem is in the mind. I know this."
He is completely fit. He trained. He stayed on the pitch for as long as any other player. He is perfect. The problem is in the mind. I know this.
Capello said Rooney reminded him of one of his own former team-mates. "In the mind you are ok, ok, ok," he said. "Then you get to the pitch."
Capello appeared to play down the possibility of a radical shake-up of his line-up, a stance which would be consistent with his belief that it is a fear of failure that is preventing England's big guns from living up to their reputations here rather than any tactical problem or lack of ability. "This (change) is not in my mind," the Italian added. "During the game I can change. I can do different things. We have time to prepare for what is going to be a really important game for us.
"Now we have to play like we train. We have been passing really well. It was really good. The problem is not only when we win the ball. We have to win it back quickly. This is one of the big problems that we have now. We have to press the opponents to win back the ball. I want to see the spirit next time."
Capello, who has refused to rule out quitting if England come up short on Wednesday, admits he is at a loss to understand why his players have been so lacklustre. "We have trained at every moment. We have practised everything. But when we have played we have lacked the same pace," he said.
"The fear of the World Cup is in the mind of the players. It is incredible. The performance in training is good. The performance on the pitch is not the same players, that I know."
Capello's captain, Steven Gerrard, has promised that the spirit that was missing against Algeria will be restored for the must-win clash with Slovenia. "I thought against Algeria we weren't aggressive enough, we never pressed the ball and won it back quickly enough," the Liverpool midfielder said.
"We never showed enough urgency and we certainly weren't clinical enough around the box. We need to find something quick for Wednesday night. It adds a lot more pressure on ourselves for Wednesday but as a player you've got to thrive on that pressure and look forward to it and hope we can get the result we want."
Gerrard partially endorsed Capello's comments about the impact of the huge expectations surrounding England on players' performances. "There is a lot of pressure on the guys, there is no lying about that. There is a lot of tension because we want to stay in this tournament for a long time.
"But we knew that coming into it, that there was always going to be big pressure and as players you've got to accept that. You've got play under that pressure and play well. What's done is done now. There is no good looking back. We can't change that. This is our last chance."