Donald MacInnes: Rooney and Chaplin playing the same game

In The Red

If you’re a football fan, you’ll know that today sees the commencement of the English Premier League, a competition about as enamoured of the holy pound sterling as it is possible to get without actually licking a tenner.

It is also as chivalrous and honourable in its business dealings as a crocodile with a flick-knife.

Much of the talk this summer has surrounded the trundling saga of Wayne Rooney, the one-time top-of-the-heap English superstar, now marginalised at Manchester United and desperate to leave, much as he was a couple of years ago, when he first told United he was unhappy; that the club didn’t match his ambition. Aghast, the club reacted to the dagger in its back by acquiescing with quite mystifying largesse, making Rooney reputedly one of the highest-paid players in the country, on £250,000 a week. That's speedboat money. While United fans may have been outwardly and collectively infuriated with Rooney’s brinkmanship, any boos they directed his way in the next game evaporated as soon as he scored a goal. His “disloyalty” meant nothing, as long as he kept banging them in. Football fans are such tarts for a goal. But this, after all, is showbusiness. Goals are crashing cymbals. The fans just want to be entertained. They don't need to approve of their hero’s life choices. Just his kicking. And it was ever thus.

A century ago, Charlie Chaplin was a global star. In 1914, he was coming to the end of his contract with one studio, Essanay, and so let it be known that, on top of his salary, he expected his next studio to pay him a signing  fee of $150,000. That amounts to around £2m today. It snowed offers, but Charlie signed with Mutual Film Corporation, on $10,000 a week (about £145,000 today).

Newspapers pulsated with rage that, at 26, Chaplin was one of the highest paid people in the world. But the bottom line, said Mutual president John R. Freuler, was: "We can afford to pay Mr Chaplin this large sum annually because the public wants Chaplin and will pay for him.” It didn’t matter how much Charlie wanted. As long as he got laughs, he was indulged. And while this ethos clearly carries through to the Rooney goings-on, you'd have to wonder if, in even half a century, Wayne will be remembered as fondly as the little baggy-trousered Englishman who held Hollywood to ransom. And won.

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