James Lawton: Champagne toast in garish Dubai to Rooney's new wealth leaves a bitter taste
What was he celebrating in Dubai? It could only be his new status as an icon of the grab-it-all-and stuff-the-consequences persuasion
Tuesday 26 October 2010
A great old football man, who died four years after Wayne Rooney was born, never tired of passing on to his co-workers one of his deepest beliefs.
It was his article of faith, the lesson he had learned most truly.
"Always celebrate your victories," said Joe Mercer, a hero of Goodison Park and, after the intervention of Second World War army service that stretched to seven years, inspiring captain of Arsenal.
The brilliant and deeply philosophical manager of a superb Manchester City team invariably added, "You must celebrate because in this game you never know if you will ever have another reason to do so."
Strictly speaking, Rooney, who followed Mercer into the colours of Everton with such precocious distinction, was doing no more than following the old man's bidding when he flew off to Dubai with his wife Coleen for a little warmth and sustenance at the £1,200-a-night "seven star" Burj Al Arab hotel.
However, if Rooney did have something to celebrate apart from his 25th birthday, certainly in material terms more than any other professional in the history of the game, we can be sure it was not the kind of triumph Joe Mercer had in mind.
Not that Mercer could ever have imagined a player in the middle of the biggest slump of his career, eight months removed from his last significant club performance and with a dreadful World Cup effort still smouldering in the nation's memory, taking on a club of Manchester United's standing and stripping it bare of any serious sense that it remained bigger than its best paid employee.
Yet if many of the events of recent days would have been mysterious to Mercer, there is no doubt that his reactions would have been, at the very least, complicated by more than the odd flash of ambivalence.
Mercer had some terrible times as a professional, not least when his Everton manager Theo Kelly charged him with feigning injury in an international against Scotland, an accusation that was not withdrawn even when Mercer paid his own medical bills after an operation for serious cartilage damage.
When Mercer signed for Arsenal, for whom he performed with bow-legged commitment of the highest order, the Everton manager took along the player's boots so he wouldn't have reason to return to Goodison Park and say farewell to team-mates who had come to think of him as the professional model to which they all aspired.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Rooney affair, the player has plainly placed a huge burden on himself as he seeks to regain the fire and authority of the best of his game. His decision to fly to Dubai, while nursing an ankle injury – a process hardly served by a 10-hour flight to the desert shore – surely came from the public relations school of "up yours".
As Rooney nursed what looked like a poolside pint, Coleen sipped champagne and displayed a demeanour which might just have suggested a certain dip in the ferocity with which she received the news of his private life that apparently so deeply threatened their marriage.
Meanwhile, of course, Manchester United – the team Rooney argued had become unfit for title-challenging purpose – were fighting at least some way back into contention at one of football's least hospitable places – and Javier Hernandez, who cost United almost precisely half the price of meeting one year of the superstar's new contract – was playing with the relish and the flair that not so long ago were so implicit in every Rooney performance.
It means that beyond the argument of whether Rooney and his agent were right to push a United made so vulnerable by their American ownership's Doomsday borrowing policy against the wall, there is an issue that has nothing to do with morality or style or the imperative to act entirely out of self-interest.
All that is for Rooney to square with himself, a chore which he appeared to have somewhat got the better of in the Dubai swimming pool. What is rather more compelling, at least for some of us, is the answer to that question Joe Mercer raised all those years ago.
It asks whether Rooney will again quite know the gut-deep exhilaration displayed by young Hernandez on Sunday when he scored a back-headed goal of surreal opportunism and another of front-rank predatory instinct. Really, what was Rooney celebrating in Dubai when his team-mates were embroiled in a difficult assignment?
It wasn't one of the great statements of a career that has so often been quite brilliant. It wasn't the wonderful maturity he displayed when he stood head and shoulders above the rest of England's "golden generation" in his first competitive match, a European Championship qualifier against World Cup semi-finalists Turkey in Sunderland seven years ago.
It wasn't the stupendous goal he scored for Everton against an all-conquering Arsenal, which persuaded Arsène Wenger that he was, by some distance, the best young English player he had ever seen.
Certainly it did not follow the kind of announcement he made in Portugal in 2004, when only injury halted his thrilling attempt to provide England with the momentum that might just have brought the nation its first major tournament win in 38 years.
No, what he could only be drinking to in Dubai, the most garish of monuments to quick, borrowed money, was his new status as an icon of the grab-it-all-and-stuff-the-consequences persuasion. That might be fine for Rooney and his advisers, but it wouldn't have been for Joe Mercer – or all those who came so much later and thought they saw in Wayne Rooney a footballer who could flourish in any age of the game.
Why? Because he could persuade some of the most knowledgeable men in football that his talent was so exceptional, so profound, it could be put on the level of so many of the greatest players the game had ever seen. Nor was it just talent; it was the appetite and the fury of the street, it was the passion to play football with a conviction that he was born to do this better than anything else he would ever touch in a life of such unpromising beginnings.
Yes, old Joe said to celebrate every win as if it was your last. He probably didn't realise then there would be a day when victory could ever look so empty and so cheap and, maybe, hazardous.
Lineker was too hasty: the press is helping England
If it should happen that England do indeed land the 2018 World Cup – and certainly the prospects have brightened in the last week or so – let's hope some of the hand-wringing over the honest reporting of the English media undergoes a certain re-appraisal. Not least, this should be, from one of the leading voices of the national game, BBC Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker.
He was so incensed by the Mail on Sunday's reporting of the Triesman affair he resigned as a columnist of the newspaper, saying that he couldn't reconcile his conscience with working for an organisation which had so endangered the English bid.
Ironic, isn't it, that the reporting of the Mail on Sunday – and the Sunday Times – is proving such a potential asset to England's cause as Fifa wrestles with charges of corruption in the bidding process?
It is a timely reminder that only the guilty, and the faint-hearted, have an investment in suppressing the truth.
Fabregas' graceless demand for red soured fine display
It was as a difficult task, but Cesc Fabregas pulled it off in a depressingly familiar way.
A performance against Manchester City that struck so many superb notes, and would surely have been judged flawless but for a missed penalty, was robbed of much of its grace by his hectoring demands for the dismissal of his opponent Dedryck Boyata.
The young Belgian had to go – as did Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes in Champions League action when he flattened an Internazionale forward bearing down on his goal. Again, though, we had the unpleasant sight of pressure on the referee, this time from Rafa Benitez.
Winning is the most important, thing, we know, but does it so often have to be at the cost of something that might pass for both dignity and manliness? Apparently it does.
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