In a Real Madrid or Barcelona shirt, Wayne Rooney would have been taken off long before he spooned a chance to win this game over the crossbar in the 68th minute. Any top-grade manager would have despaired of his inability to find a fellow Englishman with a pass.
In this kind of form, England’s best-known player has no business appearing in the same paragraph as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, the competing monarchs of Catalonia and Castilla.
Nor could he linger long in a discussion about the world’s great creative midfielders. There are days when Rooney plunges into the swamp of English mediocrity and appears incapable of mastering even basic ball retention.
This may seem unduly condemning of a player who has scored three times in England’s last two World Cup qualifiers and now has 32 in all: only eight behind Michael Owen, who is fourth in the all-time list.
A Rooney header from a Steven Gerrard corner put England ahead after half an hour but could not disguise his general clumsiness. After 72 minutes, Roy Hodgson’s patience ran out. Up went Rooney’s number and on went Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in his place.
Friday brings the 10th anniversary of his wonder goal for Everton against Arsenal at Goodison Park. Rooney, who struck a thunderbolt past David Seaman from 30-yards, was 16. His blast ended Arsenal’s 30-game unbeaten run and confirmed the accuracy of all the scouting reports that said he was the best English youngster since Paul Gascoigne or Paul Scholes.
That intervening decade closes with Stoke on the horizon for Manchester United and reviewers feeling that this was one of his worst performances since the 2010 World Cup, where he was tetchy and semi-detached. In mitigation Rooney returned from an injury lay-off leaner and determined to rise to the challenge of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa joining United.
He cannot be consigned to the scrap-heap on the back of one bad display on a slow pitch. Yet this one fitted all too well the wild fluctuations of his form in England colours.
Only last Friday we were praising him for his maturity as he sported the captain’s armband for the first time in a competitive international. But that was against San Marino, in a 5-0 win. Five days later his passing was too heavy, or too light; too long, too short.
You can tell when Rooney is unhappy with his distribution. After a misplaced pass he performs a little skip of frustration and twists his head. His glaring miss after Danny Welbeck had teed the ball up for him inside Poland’s penalty box brought a sharp facial acknowledgement that this was not going to be his day.
Sir Alex Ferguson has no problem taking Rooney off. Nor is he shy about not putting him on in the first place. At United a strict rule prevails. If Rooney is playing badly he misses out. Simple.
For England managers it is more tricky. They are more dependent on his gifts. There are fewer top-class alternatives to turn to. So Hodgson’s decision to substitute him with 18 minutes left can be circled in red ink. “There was an element of physicality. It looked as if he was tiring,” Hodgson said. “He didn’t have the type of game you’d have wanted after his excellent game against San Marino.”
The significant detail was how far Rooney’s form dipped from one game to the next. England’s record under Hodgson remains respectable. Their only defeat in 11 matches was the Euro 2012 quarter-final against Italy. 'Unbeaten,’ though an official designation, is not one we can sensibly attach to a side who were knocked out of a tournament, albeit it on penalties. In both their 1-1 qualifying draws, though, against Ukraine and Poland, the recidivism of wastefulness with the ball has resurfaced to a ruinous degree.
At Euro 2012, Hodgson played down the modern obsession with possession stats, pointing out that ball circulation alone wins no games. That might have sent the wrong message to his players but he modified those statements at the start of 2014 qualifying, saying England needed to keep the ball more.
As things stand, players who are routinely ordered not to gift the ball back to the opposition in club football with United or Manchester City are still applying a cavalier attitude to retention when they pull on an England jersey.
Relative to his talent, Rooney was the most guilty of all England players here in Warsaw. It was also worrying that a Joe Hart goalkeeping error should lead to Poland’s equaliser. Hart, to his credit, confessed to the mistake in not connecting with a clearing punch.
In Wednesday’s starting line-up there were four England players who would qualify as true international class: Hart, Rooney, Ashley Cole and Gerrard. Only two of that quartet could be content with their work.
So is Rooney on the wane? Should we now call him Waning Rooney? Not yet.
There are enough flashes of the old potency, in club football at least, to justify the hope that he will be a hot property still in 2014, assuming England make it to Brazil.
They remain top of their qualifying group but will not head the table beyond Nov 14, when Montenegro, who are only a point behind, host San Marino.
The new year is bound to dawn with England second in Group H, with trips to Montenegro and Ukraine still to come.
For eight years now the England camp has radiated desperation in relation to Rooney. The fervent hope has been that he would be St George’s talisman and match-winner. He has seldom looked comfortable carting that burden around.
The 2010 World Cup aside, he has made most of the right noises about national service and how much it means to him. Yet here in Warsaw, England needed his authority, his ambition and his skill. Instead they saw him hop around in frustration and then depart the scene too early.
There was seldom a better fit for the word: enigma.