The issue of his legacy as England manager drew a typically ambivalent response from Sven Goran Eriksson as he wore regulation Football Association clothing to a press conference for the final time yesterday: "To be judged as an honest man who tried his best," representing all that he wished for. On Wayne Rooney, however, the man who launched the striker's international career after six Premiership starts in February 2003 but will now never reap the benefits of that decision made an impassioned attempt to preserve the reputation of English football's "golden boy".
Mindful of the hysterical reaction to David Beckham's dismissal in the World Cup quarter-finals of 1998 and acting on his instinct to protect all big name players, Eriksson's last notable act in office was to appeal to the nation not to vilify Rooney as the architect of England's latest demise following his 62nd-minute red card against Portugal.
He may succeed in that respect, with opinion divided over the intent behind the stamp on Ricardo Carvalho's reproductive organs, but while he left no doubt that the dismissal and abject penalty taking were the principal causes of this World Cup exit, the Swede believes the tempestuous Manchester United striker must be indulged if England are to add to their solitary title in the coming years.
Eriksson accepted referee Horacio Elizondo's decision to send off Rooney and Fifa may deliver their own condemnation today when their disciplinary committee meets to discuss the length of the 20-year-old's suspension, a decision that could impact on England's qualifying campaign for the European Championship under new manager Steve McClaren.
The outgoing coach, however, stressed: "You will need Wayne Rooney more than me now. He is the golden boy of English football so don't kill him, I beg you, because you will need him. He is a fantastic football player, if he had done it with intent or not, just leave it. You need him for qualifying for the European Championships in 2008 and long after that.
"He is a fantastic player and he has a temper, but I have no hard feelings against him at all and neither should you."
Eriksson confirmed that the dismissal was for stamping on the Chelsea defender and not for shoving Cristiano Ronaldo when his United colleague urged the Argentinian official to brandish a red card. "I spoke to Wayne after the game and his opinion was that he had no intention to do it," he revealed. "After that I went to the referee's room and had a private conversation with him. He was more than 100 per cent sure that it was a red card. I had seen it on a computer screen and asked the referee where he had hit him. The referee pointed to exactly where it was."
In keeping with his protestations of innocence Rooney has not apologised for leaving England to play with 10 men for an hour in Gelsenkirchen - "He is not that kind of person, but make it easy for him, make it easier for him to come back than you made it for David Beckham," said Eriksson, who believes the forward was frustrated by his own form after six weeks on the sidelines nursing a broken metatarsal. "He put pressure on himself because he missed some of his golden touches after being out of the game for so long," he explained.
Rooney's England team-mates, however, have been unequivocal in defending his actions, citing the player's honesty and commitment to win the ball despite being fouled by Carvalho and Armando Petit as contributing to his downfall. John Terry explained: "Wayne should have had the free-kick 15-20 seconds before that. Any other team, any other player, they go down and the referee gives a foul. But we are honest and Wayne stays on his feet and tries to win the ball when he has two people fighting against him. That's the honesty we show."
Frank Lampard added: "Maybe we're a victim in England - and Wayne more than anyone - of trying to be too strong and trying to carry on when other players would go down."
Much of England's anger was directed towards Ronaldo for the inflammatory gestures that could leave him, rather than Rooney, as the object of Premiership vitriol when Manchester United play next season, providing he is not granted his wish of a move to Real Madrid in the meantime of course. "If that was one of my team-mates I would be absolutely disgusted in him," said Steven Gerrard. "I saw Ronaldo going over to the ref and giving him the card and I think he was bang out of order. Winking at the bench and his team-mates sums him up as a person."
The Portuguese winger, however, insisted: "It was not my fault. I didn't get him sent off. I spoke with Rio [Ferdinand] and Gary [Neville] and they did not have a problem with me. I did not get the chance to speak to Wayne, but I will telephone him."
When asked if he had sympathy for his crestfallen team-mate, Ronaldo added: "Why would I feel sorry for him? I don't feel sorry for Wayne, I think this is a time to congratulate Portugal and celebrate our victory."Reuse content