England coach Fabio Capello hinted that he will take Wayne Rooney to next summer's Euro 2012 finals despite a ban ruling him out of the entire group stages.
Capello had not spoken about Rooney since the Manchester United striker was handed a three-match ban by UEFA as punishment for his red card in the qualifier against Montenegro earlier this month.
The Football Association have yet to decide whether to appeal against the ban, but as it stands Rooney will be unable to feature in the first phase of the tournament in Poland and Ukraine in June.
Despite that, and the worry that England could fail to reach the knockout stages at all, Capello gave a clue as to his thinking when he addressed guests at a Club Wembley function.
"The young players are really good and ready to play with the seniors, and the experience of the seniors is really important," Capello said of his desire to bring through young talent.
"During the games we need some leaders, people that know something.
"Jack Wilshere is incredible because he is so young. We also need the experience of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Scott Parker.
"You need this kind of player, plus Rooney, I hope."
Capello clearly understands that Rooney is key to England's chances of success, and the striker, who turns 26 next week, displayed his importance on Tuesday night when he netted two penalties in Manchester United's Champions League defeat of Otelul Galati, taking his goal tally for the season to 11.
Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, two of Rooney's team-mates in Romania, are part of a group of English youngsters who have emerged over the past few months.
Capello does not want to pile too much expectation on them just yet, but he does believe the balance of his squad is far better now than when he took charge almost four years ago.
"I am happy with my players," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in them.
"There are not many young players in the world who are better than the English ones.
"But you need to wait until the end of the season to understand if they are at the top and ready to play with the seniors.
"We had a gap between the oldest and the young. Now, with people like Wilshere, Jones, (Danny) Welbeck, (Daniel) Sturridge - it's really interesting.
"It will be a really good team for the next Euros."
England appeared drained right from the off at last year's World Cup in South Africa, and Capello also spoke of the importance of rest in the three weeks between the club season ending and European Championship starting on June 8.
"It's really important the players relax after the season because the season here in England is really strong," he said.
"This year will be stronger than last because there will be a competition between five or six teams to qualify for the Champions League.
"Also, I hope some teams all play in the Champions League final and the other UEFA competition.
"But if we arrive fresh and fit we will be competitive."
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