Southgate retains huge respect for 'legend' Rooney
Gareth Southgate was fulsome in his praise of Wayne Rooney following the forward's England retirement, while outlining plans to share the captaincy around for the immediate future.
Rooney announced on Wednesday he was stepping down from international duty after a 13-year career with the Three Lions that saw him become the nation's all-time leading goalscorer (53) as well as the most capped outfield player (119).
Southgate had asked Rooney to be a part of his squad to face Malta and Slovakia in upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but the 31-year-old informed the manager of his decision to retire to concentrate on his club career after returning to boyhood side Everton.
In a media conference following the announcement of his 28-man squad, which included first-time call-ups for Nathaniel Chalobah and Harry Maguire, Southgate made it clear he still held Rooney in the highest regard.
"I called him to firm up the meeting and he said he appreciated me calling, but he'd been thinking long and hard and was going to announce his international retirement," said England boss Southgate.
"We talked for another 30 minutes and I totally understand his decision. He has a sense of loyalty to Everton and has a fresh opportunity there. I thought there was a role for him to play in the squad, but I understand his decision.
"I'm not sure what else you have to do to become a legend. I congratulate him on a fantastic international career.
"We're good at judging our players harshly. Rooney's done everything but win a trophy with England. By that token only the guys from 1966 can be elevated to that level.
"I've got huge respect for him. I was fortunate to play with him and manage him. He's been a pleasure to work with and I'm sure there'll be a role for him to play in the future.
"We've had recent squads without him so we're used to that. We've named a lot of younger players, looking to the future, but I could see the value in having older players in there – like Jermain Defoe, for example. We've got exciting players coming through."
Southgate also explained that a full-time leader of the side will not be named for the time being.
"I won't rush it with the captaincy; we will spread it through the team for now, so it's important for others to take responsibility," he added.