James Lawton: Rooney excused by culture of evasion

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The Independent Online

If Jamie Redknapp had not been hit by injury at a pivotal point of a career which had promised some considerable distinction, he might well have been performing at the Bernabeu rather than in a television studio.

If Jamie Redknapp had not been hit by injury at a pivotal point of a career which had promised some considerable distinction, he might well have been performing at the Bernabeu rather than in a television studio.

This would surely have been a distinctly mixed blessing. The odds are he would have proved that in the homeland of Finney and Matthews, Haynes and Charlton there was still a Ferrari-owning footballer for whom the execution of a simple pass wasn't the most perilous journey into the unknown.

However, this would have been at the cost of a blinding insight into the way the average player weighs his responsibilities to the game that has come to reward him with such grotesque extravagance.

Redknapp the pundit unwittingly unlocked the mystery of how it was that a young man like Wayne Rooney could behave in the outrageous way he did without apparently suffering a flicker of remorse.

Redknapp said that Rooney had merely suffered a bout of "frustration" and that Sven Goran Erikkson was wrong when, a few minutes before half-time, he withdrew Rooney from the game he had turned into a travesty of sportsmanship and discipline. According to this breathtaking evaluation, Eriksson's decision made a big issue of Rooney's wretched behaviour.

Just fancy that for over-reaction, mistaking the smouldering rage and brutality of a 19-year-old multimillionaire footballer for something worthy of censure.

The coach, said Redknapp, should have waited for half-time. That way, presumably, we could have quietly forgotten about Rooney's thug's jamboree, and got on with the serious business of excoriating Spanish fans who behaved pretty much as their English counterparts had done in the not so distant past. That, if you remember, was before every leading English club felt confident enough in the state of our civilisation to hire significant levels of black labour, at least on the shop floor.

Why would Redknapp, an intelligent and generally impeccable representative of his trade, so instinctively seek to tear down a piece of football's most disgusting dirty washing? Because of habit, because of a culture of evasion, if not the most blatant dishonesty, which touches every level of the game.

The sight of Rooney displaying his lack of contrition by throwing down the armband worn in memory of the fallen pros Emlyn Hughes and Keith Weller was certainly shocking, but was it really so much of a surprise?

If the two great managers of English football, Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, could emerge from the recent shoddy anarchy of the Manchester United-Arsenal match without a single mea culpa between them, could anything more be reasonably expected from a kid who recently might have been auditioning for the role of Harry Enfield's appalling Kevin?

Where, after all, was any example of humility and self-examination? In the denial of his team-mates and his club that Rio Ferdinand was hopelessly at fault when he casually ignored a drug test last season? Scarcely. In the shame displayed by his England captain David Beckham when he boasted of how he had proved his brainpower when breaking the laws of the game and earning a yellow card in the World Cup qualifier against Wales? Perhaps not. In the absence of remorse by Robert Pires after his shocking penalty dive against Portsmouth or Ferguson's refusal to concede that Ruud van Nistelrooy's tackle on Ashley Cole was a horrific throwback to the worst days of football savagery? No.

Contrary to Redknapp's view, it was entirely right that Eriksson responded quickly and decisively to Rooney's behaviour. But then what can we make of the coach's later reflection: "I really don't know why he was like that. There was so much hot temper out there. I think it was the first time I've seen him lose his temper for England. Maybe we've seen some little flashes before but I think he was frustrated and that is why he pulled off the armband. Sometimes we do forget he is just a boy. While age is not an excuse, I would say it's an excuse for me. What happened on the pitch will be good for him. He has to learn and we hope he does. I'm not worried."

He should be. Rooney wasn't merely peevish in Madrid; he was utterly out of control. How he is dealt with by Eriksson and Ferguson is surely crucial to his future development. The trouble is that there is no real structure of discipline or accountability in English football, a fact which was underlined by Ferguson's assistant Carlos Queiroz yesterday.

When asked for his reaction to Rooney's misbehaviour in the Bernabeu, Queiroz said: "Every time we play we learn, and I'm sure the lessons from Wednesday night are not only for Rooney. They are for the whole team. The tackles were not only from Rooney. Some other players had problems with some other ugly tackles, worse than Rooney. What I can't accept is that once again it seems like a player from Manchester United becomes the bad guy and the others the nice guys, just because we don't talk about what happened with the others.

"It happened a few weeks ago when we played Arsenal. Ruud became the bad guy and all the others seemed to be the nice guys. The most important thing for Manchester United is that it is just not part of our business what happened on Wednesday. What is important is to create the right environment, the right concentration to beat Charlton. It would be a huge mistake if we were still playing the game from Wednesday, so we don't talk to the players about it.

"Nobody at the club is losing time with whatever happened in Spain. It's not part of our problems, it's something the FA and Spain have to deal with."

So there we have it, the full Pontius Pilate cleansing kit. United's prodigy shames himself and his country but it is nothing to do with his club - nor will it be until the next time he decides that he is frustrated enough to revert to the habits of the back alley.

This isn't the self-serving gibberish of some rabid inhabitant of the Stretford End. This is a professional man and what he is saying is what passes for responsibility in English football; this is the assistant manager of Manchester United and a former coach of Real Madrid. Jamie Redknapp is the son of a Premiership manager and a former England player.

In these dismal circumstances, can anyone seriously wonder why it is that Wayne Rooney seems to believe that he can do as he likes?

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