Fabio Capello must take Wayne Rooney to the 2012 European Championships if he wants to win the tournament. The Manchester United striker is England's best player and the old truism goes: You need your best to beat the best.
Rooney faces a three-game ban from UEFA international games because he was sent off during England's 2-2 draw at Montenegro. He will miss its three group stage games because of the red card. The FA is considering lodging an appeal with UEFA that, if successful, will reduce the ban. It is believed the appeal will be denied.
Some say that the England manager Capello cannot take Rooney to Poland and Ukraine (the countries that will co-host the quadrennial tournament) because it would waste a valuable slot in the 23-man travelling party. A better use would be on a player that would be available for selection throughout the tournament.
For me, the decision is a no-brainer. Rooney is one of the few England players to play regularly at the highest level over the last four to six years. Manchester United goes deep into the UEFA Champions League every season. Its finishes over the last four read as such: runner-up, quarterfinal runner-up, winner and semifinalist. Rooney has played a key role in each of those campaigns and the 25-year-old is easily England's best player.
As long as its not drawn into a so-called "group of death," a fit and focused England is strong enough to emerge from any group without Rooney. Its forward corps lacks star players, but there are some talented youngsters who can score a goal or two over the games Rooney will miss. Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge, Manchester United's Danny Welbeck and Liverpool's Andy Carroll all fit the bill.
When Rooney returns, he will be like an attack dog let off its leash that could have a devastating impact on the knockout rounds. His return would galvanize his teammates and strike fear into the opposition.
If England lucks its way to the semifinal without Rooney, Capello would be kicking himself for not selecting a player that has represented his country since he was 18. Favorites Spain, Germany and the Netherlands boast stronger squads than England with Rooney. Without him, they are miles ahead.
Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard agrees with me and a host of English Premier League managers that have called for Rooney's inclusion.
"For me he has got to go, the talent that he is," Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo. "He is that good a player I think you have to take the risk and take him. It is devastating he is out for the first three games, it is a massive blow for everyone. We will have to see who we come up against in the group games but we should progress from the group stages and then you need your best player out there with you to push on all the way to the final."
This one shouldn't even be up for debate, but let's put it to a vote anyway. What do you think?