Manchester United’s Rooney scored 26 goals to finish second to Chelsea’s Didier Drogba in the Premier League while suffering from a persistent groin injury. He limped out of the team’s last game of the season against Sunderland on May 9.
“They could lose any of the other players and whilst it would be a blow it wouldn’t be a fatal blow,” Keegan said in an interview with Bloomberg. “But if England lost Rooney I would say they have no chance then because he’s the one player who can sprinkle some stardust on the team.
“Everyone will have their key player -- ours is Rooney and if he performs well and plays to his very best then I think England can get to the semifinals.”
Keegan, a former European player of the year, speaks from experience. He captained England at the 1982 World Cup but a chronic back injury restricted him to just 26 minutes as the team was eliminated in the second round.
Rooney has not suffered any reaction to his injury during the England squad’s training camp in Austria this week.
The 59-year-old Keegan managed England at the 2000 European championship, overseeing a first-round elimination. He quit in October of that year after a home defeat to Germany in a World Cup qualification game, saying he’d taken the team as far as he could. With a win rate of 38.9 percent, he’s statistically the national team’s least successful coach.
England will be coached by Italian Fabio Capello at this year’s World Cup in South Africa. Keegan says Capello’s future won’t only be determined by success on the field but also by his relationship with the U.K. media.
“You can be the nicest guy in the world, you can be the best coach in the world, but if you don’t get results you are not going to keep your job,” Keegan said. “They are going to chip, chip, chip and they are going get you out. He’s had a very, very good start. If they have a poor World Cup then the pressure will straight come back.”
England won its only World Cup as host in 1966. Keegan says the team is unlikely to repeat the feat in South Africa and predicts two-time winner Argentina, with world player of the year Lionel Messi, may be the surprise winner.
“They’ve underperformed under (coach) Diego Maradona so far,” he said. “If they can get it together for six, seven matches, they have the players to win a World Cup.
The World Cup begins June 11 with England playing its opening match against the U.S. a day later. The final is July 11.