By Alex Netherton
There’s a great tradition of over-analysing celebrities and sportsmen through an intellectual lens that probably does a disservice to everyone. For one, it flatters the writer into getting to show off with big words and psychobabble (or more accurately makes him or her look like a git). For two, it’s guesswork. And lastly, it’s possibly damaging to how the subject is perceived and how he or she may feel. However, it’s possible, when talking about Wayne Rooney, to avoid all that, and still wonder why exactly he has arrived at such a miserable position.
Rooney played football like a savant. The game came naturally to him, with the arrogance of youth, made special by the ability to justify it. His instinct was supremely imaginative and the result was an English footballer who was genuinely thrilling, able to excite the country in the rarest of ways—he played like a foreigner. These days, there’s no higher compliment for an Englishman as simply ‘not seeming English.’
Excuse the crap music for a moment, and watch:
A ridiculous player. Newcastle United put in the first bid for him, which put Craig Bellamy in an almighty strop, which was fantastically entertaining, but more importantly lead Manchester United to buy him a year earlier than they might have planned (this was back when United were still capable of buying players).
It wasn’t just his debut season; he impressed until 2010. But that’s not really the point. Most fans have functioning eyeballs and memories, and even those who don’t, know he’s falling apart. The question is, why has it gone like this? Here’s why it has gone like this!
Because he got stitched up
Superbly stitched up. When Wayne Rooney decided he wanted to leave in 2010, it was because Manchester United couldn’t match his ambitions. Essentially, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez had gone without being replaced, and it had been three years since they bought a midfielder. You could argue Gabriel Obertan, Antonio Valencia and Michael Owen were replacements, but you’d be making a really sick joke by doing so. Manchester City and Chelsea had money, United didn’t. It looked like the jig was up.
Ferguson played the wounded granddad, and Rooney got the new contract that was apparently commensurate to his ambitions. Everyone was happy enough to go along, and Manchester United and Rooney won the league. Obviously though, you don’t get to cross Ferguson and win. Roy Keane got turfed out. Ruud Van Nistelrooy got put on the naughty step in Real Madrid. Jaap Stam got Lazio’d. You don’t get to cross Fergie without paying for it.
With Rooney, things were different. Ferguson needed Rooney to win the league, and so he stayed to that end. Then a couple of things happened. United bought Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie, and Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck could increasingly hold their own. Rooney was replaced as a number nine and ten, and was no longer needed as meat in the squad. To win the league, they didn’t need Rooney, they needed RVP. As a certain genius pointed out in October 2012, things were possibly over for Rooney at United.
At his retirement party, Ferguson decided that Wayne Rooney had handed in a transfer request. It doesn’t matter what actually happened, because that’s what he said happened. And given he simply moved upstairs, it was made clear to Rooney that life might not get any easier.
Because he’s not the player he thought he’d be
Although hugely talented, Ronaldo eventually overtook him in ability, but the two of them combined well. With Carlos Tevez, the side would often feature all three, all on a similar wavelength. They all clearly enjoyed playing together. Eventually, Rooney became relied upon as the winger in the formation, as 4-3-3 became 4-5-1. His discipline meant that United could rely on him to double up at at left-back against Barcelona, and Rooney could rely on genuine success in the Premier League and Europe.
When Ronaldo and Tevez left, things again changed. No longer an energetic spark amongst three exciting players, and no longer indulging Ronaldo’s genius while suppressing his own. No, now he became a traditional number nine. A combination with Antonio Valencia led United to the title and 34 goals. His ability has meant that wherever he plays, he can still do things like this
but it has its drawbacks. By playing such one dimensional football on the wing or as a striker, the joy of football has disappeared entirely.
Rooney can, in part, lay blame at Fergie for making him play this way for so long that he can no longer rely on what made him such a great footballer. How galling must it be that having made the decision to serve the team instead of his talent, that the team no longer need him? That doesn’t justify the mardy behaviour on or off the pitch, but it goes some way to explaining it.
Because of his lifestyle—pictured boozing and smoking more than you might wish from your average professional footballer—and the injuries, which are perhaps linked, he is no longer as athletic as he once was. Before, his size and speed made him a force, now it’s more of a slow bulk, neither mobile nor lithe. Injuries have dulled his abilities. His first touch is shot, he has no explosive quality to his play. He might be angry at himself for allowing his body to get to this, or he might simply be angry that his body is letting him down. We all decay, of course—you’re decaying right now, and now, and now—but not all of our fortunes depend so directly on our bodies. Rooney would be right to be frustrated with his body, but he might be increasingly angry at himself for causing the trouble with his own carelessness.
Because he’s English
The English are an angry bunch, and more than that they’re a self-loathing people, with utterly good reason. We are awful, totally irredeemable. For all the specifics of his circumstance, Rooney just can’t escape his destiny. To resent his lot, and to be the cause of it. Fergie played his part, as did life itself, but nowhere else can you end up so miserable without the root cause simply being born in England. He might have played like a foreigner, but he thought like an Englishman.