Wayne Rooney will probably want to forget 2011 as soon as humanly possible if the first four months of the year are anything to go by. In fact, since the summer of 2010 Rooney seems to have been living in a bubble of relentless bad luck, consistently poor judgement and disillusionment. Last season was nothing short of spectacular for the Manchester United forward. 34 goals last season was his best ever tally, and, coupled with the clean sweep of individual honours at the end of the season, gave every patriotic Englishman hope prior to the team’s ill-fated flirtation with glory in South Africa. Those glory days must seem little more than a distant memory to the angry, fiery, aggressive, frustrated Rooney who has graced the field during much of the current campaign.
First came the alleged appointments with a lady of the night, then his impossibly poor performance in the World Cup culminating in a disappointingly early exit and an ugly rant at England fans who paid thousands of pounds to follow the team to The Rainbow Nation. A return to England saw his form plummet and a contractual dispute which apparently resulted in hooded fans surrounding his house, before he controversially avoided punishment for inflicting an assault on Wigan’s James McCarthy that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Wrestlemania event on Sky Box Office. This season has undoubtedly been Rooney’s toughest since he burst on the scene as a 16-year-old, and at times he has looked strained as a result, with both his performances and general happiness seeming below par to anyone who has been following events at Old Trafford closely this year.
Saturday’s mesmeric game at Upton Park should have been remembered as ‘The Wayne Rooney Show’. Assisted by the energetic Javier Hernandez, he was impeccable in raising United from the dead with a hat-trick that showed skill, technique and calmness. His second goal in particular drew comparisons with the carefree Rooney of old, his exemplary first touch and rasping finish suggesting that he may finally be restored to the confidence that saw him set the Premiership alight before his summer nightmare. The newspapers should have been full of praise for the reincarnation of the king, the resurrection of the footballing messiah, the return of the self-proclaimed ‘big man’ to his ‘town’. Instead, Rooney gaffed again, and the West Ham game will only be remembered as ‘The Effing Wayne Rooney Show’ after his foul mouthed rant at a television camera.
Rooney has made a habit of being a bit silly in the past ten months or so. Much of his Annus Horribilis has been his own doing, and it has often been difficult to defend his actions, even for his staunchest supporters. To Rooney’s credit, he always seems to know when he has done wrong. To his detriment, and the detriment of many top footballers, that doesn’t seem to stop him from doing it again. However, Saturday’s events have been blown way out of proportion by a British public and media that want to crash the last nail deep into the coffin that was Rooney’s reputation. It is easy to sit in an armchair at home or in the office and mutter about ‘role models’ and ‘respect’, but those who pass judgement in this way cannot ever understand the cocktail of emotion and passion that must have pulsed through Rooney’s veins when he saw the ball nestle in the back of Rob Green’s net for the third time at the weekend. His third goal was more than just a match-winner, more than just a goal that possibly secured a record 19th title for the Old Trafford trophy cabinet. It represented the expulsion of Rooney’s demons. After a season of being roundly criticised, his place in the United team coming under constant scrutiny, Rooney had finally shown his worth.
The penalty itself was impeccably calmly taken, but its result caused pandemonium in Rooney. This was the type of raw emotion that we expect to see in all the top athletes; the type that we cried out for when we saw England feebly crash out of the last sixteen in Bloemfontein. Tellingly, Harry Redknapp aside, most former professionals seem to have come to Rooney’s defence after Saturday’s game. The suggestion seems to be that while we shouldn’t excuse Rooney’s actions entirely, we should at least attempt to understand them in context, an argument that seems perfectly practical. Radio 5 Live on Sunday was peppered with former players suggesting that, given what was at stake in the game, given the point that he had proved, and given the incredible personal achievement that he had completed in the game, Rooney’s reaction was quite normal. The cameraman was, they claimed, just in an unfortunate place at an unfortunate time.
Unlikely as that excuse may be, it does seem that jumping on the anti-Rooney bandwagon has become somewhat fashionable of late. Joey Barton has long been the boo-boy of the football world, so much so that rather than being praised for a superb season with Newcastle this year, he seems to have dropped out of the papers altogether: when there’s nothing negative to write about Barton, there’s nothing to write about. This season, Rooney seems to have taken on this mantle, but England fans should remember that despite his many mistakes, Rooney remains a fine footballer and one Fabio Capello cannot do without if he holds aspirations of seriously competing in a major tournament in the foreseeable future. Continued scathing attacks on the striker could cause him to lose faith in himself and the sport, and that could have catastrophic effects for English football. After seeing him trudge off against West Ham, safe in the knowledge that he was in trouble again, we must hope that the damage is not already irreversible. He’s not the sharpest, but Rooney is no monster. What we saw on Saturday wasn’t a man trying deliberately to offend people at home, but a man so engrossed in his sport, so engrossed in the moment, so overwhelmed by his achievement, that he temporarily lost control. Not pretty, but not worth a two game ban, particularly considering his swift apology. To quote Rio Ferdinand, isn’t it time to ‘give Wayne a break’?
Written By Gareth Roberts
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