Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney sees the writing on the wall from the great Ian Thorpe
England underachiever could take his cue to deliver from swimmer's 100 per cent philosophy
If motivational sporting sound bites are your thing, then the Football Association's St George's Park has one for just about every situation and stencilled on every wall, even the hydrotherapy suite. In there it is the wisdom of the Australian Olympic champion swimmer Ian Thorpe, whose advice is: "Losing is not coming second. It's getting out of the water knowing you could have done better."
Asked later which of the slogans he had remembered from his tour around the building on Monday, Wayne Rooney said it was Thorpe's words that had stuck in his mind. "It was the one in the swimming pool from Ian Thorpe," he said. "I think that is quite good. I don't know why that stuck in my mind, but it did."
The question of whether Rooney could have done more with his considerable talent has always been the subject of debate, in particular in the past six months – first when he went to Las Vegas at the end of last season when he was recovering from an operation on his toe, and in the knowledge that he was suspended for the first two games of Euro 2012.
Eyebrows were also raised at Sir Alex Ferguson's observation in August that Rooney had started the season without being match-fit. In the recently serialised latest volume of his autobiography Rooney conceded that when he returned to the club for pre-season in 2009 his indulgences over that summer had left him overweight and out of shape.
He said: "I can understand and see where you are coming from [on the Las Vegas trip]. But I wasn't in Vegas going out every night drinking and partying. Obviously, I went out one night and that was seen. I couldn't train anyway. That is why I had the extra time off. I had to have something done to my toe. It was just a way to relax before I came into training but, obviously, I can understand [the criticism].
"There was no treatment for me to get [back in Manchester]. Looking back, I can understand why maybe yourselves and the fans weren't happy."
Was his fitness an issue at the start of the season? "Not really. I came back pre-season, did all my training and probably had one bad game. It gets highlighted, of course. When I came back in I wasn't out of shape. I was probably not as fit as I could have been, whether that's because I didn't have the time to get the training in. I got injured since. I have worked hard. To be honest, it probably helped me to get fit, getting injured. I feel good, I feel fit. I feel ready to go and play."
He has also had to contend with the recent allegation from the former England manager Fabio Capello that he saved his best performances for Manchester United and that England suffered accordingly. "I didn't see it," Rooney said. "I'd have liked to have played better for England. For whatever reasons, it hasn't happened – but I can hold my head up high and say I've always worked hard, given everything and I'll continue to do that. I'd like to know why [it has not always worked out]. Hopefully, it will come off for us one day."
On Friday he will face San Marino in the first of two World Cup qualifiers which will, if nothing else, represent a good opportunity for him to climb the all-time England goalscorers' list. He lies eighth, with 29 goals, but more than one against San Marino will take him past Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer into fifth place behind Michael Owen, who has 40.
The one list where his supremacy is not in question is his Twitter follower count, which stands at more than 5.1 million, making him the most followed sportsman in Britain. In a week when Ashley Cole (followers: 442,725) caused a storm with his tweet in criticism of the FA, it was interesting to hear Rooney's take on his social media profile.
"It is a good way for the fans to see a different side of you and away from football. I don't try and get involved [in arguments], you do get a bit of stick on it, but I try and leave it and not get involved. You obviously know everything you put on there is seen by everyone who follows you and it will be in the newspapers the next day, so you have to be careful.
"Yes, it brings a sense of responsibility. It is not something I went on to see how many followers I could get, but it is incredible the amount of support I get. There are some people who don't like you and follow you but the amount of support you get is fantastic."
As ever with Rooney, the season is full of possibilities. He began the last one as the in-form striker, coming off the back of his fourth title-winning season at United. He finished it with another underachieving tournament with England. He has promised that, as per the Thorpeism, he will give it everything, although, as ever, there are no guarantees it will not end in tears.
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