- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

LONDON (AP) - Shunted back in midfield for Manchester United, Wayne Rooney was reassured by England coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday that his status as the national team’s leading striker was secure.

At the same time, Hodgson is also embracing younger talent, with Tottenham striker Harry Kane, the breakthrough sensation of the season, set to earn his first England call-up for next month’s games.

The 21-year-old Kane has 23 goals this season, including eight since the start of 2015. In that time, not a single shot from Rooney has hit the target after he was squeezed out of the United forward line by manager Louis van Gaal to make way for Angel Di Maria, Robin van Persie, and Radamel Falcao.

Rooney’s pursuit of Bobby Charlton’s 249-goal United scoring record has stalled at 224. The 29-year-old Rooney is likely to reach Charlton’s England mark of 49 sooner, with just three more goals required.

And next month, when Rooney captains England against Lithuania in European Championship qualifying and a friendly in Italy, he will be back in his favored position: Up front.

“At the moment I don’t necessarily think (midfield) will be his best position for us, and I don’t have any immediate plans to play him there,” Hodgson said.

The energetic and committed Rooney was someone who can “play anywhere,” Hodgson stressed.

But when asked which was Rooney’s best position, Hodgson responded: “He’s a goal-scorer isn’t he? So one always likes to see one’s goal-scorers in positions where they can get into the box, and in and around the box.

“If you’ve got several other goal-scorers and you can afford to use one of your goal-scorers a bit further back, that’s fine. But he’s our top goal-scorer in the qualifiers, he’s just a couple of goals away now from being England’s leading goal-scorer.”

Hodgson is not reliant on Rooney when England has a talented pool of forwards, including 24-year-old Danny Welbeck of Arsenal, and Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool, who is a year older.

Hodgson has also been impressed by 22-year-old Danny Ings, who has started 2015 with five goals for Burnley.

But Kane has grabbed international attention, forcing his way into Tottenham’s lineup and displacing the more experienced Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor.

Kane, who has played for England Under-21s, can expect a promotion to the senior side next month.

“Is he worth a place in the squad now? Of course he is,” Hodgson said. “Is he worthy of a place like Wayne Rooney, Welbeck and Sturridge, whoever? Well, that’s something he’ll have to prove. But unless I give him a chance in the squad he’ll never get a chance to prove that anyway. … I’m prepared to give someone a chance when he’s really showing with his current form that he’s worthy of a place with us.”

Hodgson has been keeping close tabs on Kane’s performances.

“He can be a target player and receive balls that are played up to him,” he pointed out. “He’s not one who just stays on the shoulder and makes runs. He’s quite prepared to take part in the build-up play, run the channels, receive the longer balls, fight with the center halves, but is also prepared to make those runs into the box.

“He’s good at attacking crosses. He’s good at making short runs to get played in. Really, he combines everything that you’re looking for in a center forward.”

The key is consistency to ensure Kane is as prolific as Rooney has been over the years.

“If you can be a star at a top team like Tottenham at the age of 21 then you’re doing pretty well,” Hodgson said. “His problem now is to keep that going for the next 13 years.”

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Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris

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