From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.43 :: Oct. 28, 2010
Wayne Rooney was never shaped for beauty contests like the French winger David Ginola, or the catwalk like the multi-talented David Beckham. Nor was it his destiny to rank highly in the Civil Service examinations like Mike Brearley, the Test captain with what the Aussie fast bowler Rodney Hogg called a “degree in people”.
Nevertheless, Rooney is a master footballer, fit to rank with any of those who have turned out for his first Premiership team Everton or Manchester United or England.
He is called “Shreck” in the dressing room, “Potato Face” by less kindly opponents and “a chav” by one team-mate; but he has the instincts of an international player which is why Sir Alex Ferguson paid out £25.6m, before his 20th birthday, and why Senor Fabio Capello has never had to think twice about putting his name down for any international.
Wikipedia defines a chav as white, vulgar and working class. If you see pictures of Rooney climbing aboard an airplane for his next big match — always clutching his wash bag — and dressed in less than formal attire you might think the chav definition has its merits.
Instead of denouncing modern youth, recall Rooney the footballer.
See him trapped by two defenders with no room to move and watch those powerful thighs carry him clear. See him on his own in midfield and watch as he pumps the ball with pin-point accuracy wide of the nearest defender and into the path of a fellow attacker.
His heading is powerful, his shooting, particularly if he catches a volley properly, is devastating and his nimble speed inside the penalty box means he can outwit most tacklers as he slides the ball towards goal.
He commands the centre circle as the finest centre forwards have always done, he drives goalwards in a way that terrorises centre halves and he can kill a ball, turn and shoot in a single movement; evoking memories of Denis Law, the greatest of them all.
He ought to be heading for the captaincy of his country, perhaps two or even three more World Cups and repeated triumphs in Europe. But who can guess the future of any footballer.
At his regal best Rooney threatened to dominate this part of the world as Pele dominated South America with his pace, his power and his goal threat. Pele was hardly a beauty either by the way.
Let me say from the start that I have no doubt all these skills will return. In fact I am more certain he will climb back to the top of the tree than I am that Tiger Woods will rise again, although I will be sad if the greatest golfer allows his personal problems to send him plunging to the bottom rung.
Rooney began in that great footballing academy that flourishes in the separate republic of Liverpool where he was born into an Everton family. That is the way alliances work out in the amazing port city. You have no choice in the matter. You are either born in Goodison territory as Rooney was or at Anfield; and never the twain shall meet.
Bill Shankly thought there was little trouble between the two groups — and certainly nothing like the Rangers-Celtic fervour in Glasgow — because everything from poverty to religious bigotry in Liverpool is watered down by their famed sense of humour.
Everyone in the city is a comedian. I remember the jokes to this day although it is 40 years I worked there. “Did you see the headline in tonight's paper — Docker Marries Commoner” the nightclub comic bellowed. (The light-fingered men who unloaded ships were reported to be the richest — and that is beyond a joke.)
Funnily enough, Rooney is not noted for his sense of humour, his quick repartee or a fund of amusing anecdotes. Instead he is worried by the chance that his marriage — to his childhood sweetheart Coleen, a smart girl who has cut out a new life for herself — is on the rocks after a fling.
I am not going into details; frankly it is too sordid for a magazine for dedicated sports fans; but it has turned him from a free-running, ambitious and aggressive footballer into a player who is now so seriously out of form that his United and his England place are in danger.
He had a miserable World Cup in South Africa, his form for United has been wretched and replacements are being sought.
So what next for the chav for whom life only begins when he trots on to a football field?
My guess is that his sad story has some way to run. Coleen's family, who are also part of the Everton clan, refuse to see him and, although there is talk that he and his wife have made up, those stories are often followed by a more permanent separation, as we saw in the equally unpleasant episode in the soap opera that belongs to Ashley Cole and his wife Cheryl, now divorced.
Rooney should beware the power of the WAGS — the wives and girl friends of the England team — who got close during the 2006 World Cup and who, led by Victoria Beckham, still remain an influence.
Still, they will never be as big an influence as the city of Liverpool with its strictly divided loyalties. So, whatever happens to Rooney's career with Manchester United you can be sure the Everton lad will never cross the line to play for Liverpool.
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