Rooney’s absence is a sad indictment of the cotton-wool footballer

Modern footballers these days are precious creatures. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson chose to leave out star striker Wayne Rooney for United’s match against Everton on Saturday amidst tabloid allegations surrounding his private life. Ferguson’s decision to shield Rooney from the abuse he would most certainly have gotten from the Everton fans is representative of the mollycoddling of professional footballers that has come about due to their conspicuous position in the public eye.

I’m sure Rooney would have been champing at the bit at the opportunity to prove himself in front of a hostile Goodison crowd. He would have loved to shown that he was unaffected by all of the unwanted attention that had been heaped upon him in the past week by going out and playing a blinder on the pitch. However, that chance was denied to him by his manager as he chose to omit a fit, in-form Wayne Rooney from the game.

Ferguson’s stance on Rooney comes as something of a surprise from a manager that has become known for being rather uncompromising and forthright. Indeed, Rooney’s omission come as even more of a surprise when one learns of Ferguson’s own views on the “fragile” nature of today’s players. In an interview with The Guardian last year, Sir Alex bemoaned the modern trend of “fragile” players:

“It’s a different player character we’ve got today. It’s more fragile than the player of 25 years ago. They’re maybe more cocooned today by their agents and the press, at times.”

By decided against playing Rooney, Ferguson has bought into the very notion that he is denouncing by “cocooning” Rooney against the reactions of the Everton fans.

Like that of his Old Trafford counterpart, Roy Hodgson has also chosen to leave out one of his star players in the light of possible abuse from fans. Argentina captain Javier Mascherano was left out of Liverpool’s trip to Eastlands due to the midfielder “not being in the right frame of mind” following interest in his services from Barcelona. While this may have been the case, Hodgson would also have been aware of the possible fan backlash towards Mascherano’s less than positive attitude about playing for the club and decided that it would be best to spare Mascherano the ordeal of playing in front of a disgruntled Liverpool faithful.

As a fan, you would like to see the best players on the pitch. By excluding Wayne Rooney from Saturday’s game, Ferguson ensured that this was not the case. I understand the concerns about Rooney’s temperament in the wake of all the tabloid headlines written about him but I would have liked to have seen the manager give Rooney an opportunity to show that it didn’t affect him by giving him a run-out for a half at least to see how well he could cope.

Rooney’s absence speaks volumes about the hypersensitivity that is present in today’s game. Players are protected from even the slightest suggestion that could possibly affect their performances on the pitch. I fear that Ferguson may be setting a precedent for other managers to follow should any such allegations fall upon their own players.

Do you agree that footballers have become soft? Should they be allowed to take fan criticism? Or is Ferguson right to protect Rooney?

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