James Lawton: Lurid antics of Rooney and Co are a wrecking-ball to image of game

There must be the worry that Rooney and too many team-mates are piling on themselves too many pressures not related to the business of doing what they do best
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The Independent Online

The sexual conduct of Wayne Rooney, and the increasing number of his England team-mates who seem so hell-bent on supporting, for the want of a less romantic term, the kiss-and-tell industry, is no doubt essentially a matter for themselves and their wives and partners.

But they are kidding themselves if they believe that is the extent of the problem.

Domestic disharmony is one consequence. But if they get round to it they may also care to consider the wrecking-ball damage their behaviour is doing to the image of the game that has put them in mansions and, in Rooney's case, apparently allows him to pay a porter in a five-star hotel £200 for getting him a packet of Marlboro.

Rooney is of mature age and has not committed an indictable offence, but the timing of the revelation that he also paid a prostitute £1,200 a session and, with ultimate indiscretion, later invited her to ply her wares at the team hotel, could hardly be worse.

It is another lurid brushstroke in the painting of a culture of leading English footballers who seem powerless to accept any professional requirement for personal discipline.

Another casualty is the idea that somehow Fabio Capello sabotaged England's World Cup hopes by imposing too many recreational restrictions on players who had emerged from a long and draining league season.

That argument is based on the belief that Capello should have lightened up his famous emphasis on discipline and allowed the players a little bit more credit for their ability to remain focused on the challenge that stretched before them for a few weeks of the South African winter.

Unfortunately, it is a theory not enhanced by the fact that currently three of the England squad on duty in South Africa have found it necessary to place "super-injunctions" against the reporting of their off-field activities and that already this year Ashley Cole, John Terry, Peter Crouch and now Rooney have been subject to the turmoil of public exposure of affairs they were desperate to keep private.

Unfortunately, that is asking too much in a celebrity-obsessed society which slavers for a daily diet of fresh titillation, however squalid.

When Capello fired Terry from the England captaincy – after a failed super-injunction which sought to suppress reports that he had conducted an affair with friend and team-mate Wayne Bridge's former partner, and mother of his child – some argued that he had reacted excessively.

However, the point Capello made with some force was that as long as he was captain Terry had a supreme responsibility for leading his team without distraction. Brusquely, Capello told the player that he had failed in this basic requirement quite utterly.

Rooney's situation, however torrid it was when his wife Coleen picked up the News of the World yesterday, is not complicated by the kind of responsibility Terry was expected to carry, but as a £100,000-a-week footballer, and England's outstanding talent by some margin, he is not without certain obligations.

One is that for a short time in his life he is equal to the challenge of conducting himself in the most professional manner. For the best part of two months now there has been a fierce debate over the cause of Rooney's complete failure to justify the expectations he took to the World Cup. One reason advanced was the nagging effects of the injury he picked up in a Champions League game in Munich. Another was the sheer pressure on a player rated alongside such as Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta as a potential star of the tournament.

Now, another possibility presents itself. It is of a young man fearing for a marriage that was launched in Italy at huge cost and with a tearful speech of adoration from the bridegroom. But, again, this is Wayne Rooney's business. The broader, more legitimate concern is the apparently devastating effect the flood of wealth is having on the ability of too many of England's leading footballers to keep the game, the basis of all that life has brought them, in the forefront of their minds.

Tiger Woods, we know, has been obliged to consider the problem for the best part of a year, even to the point of entering a sex addiction clinic, and he has had to do it despite being possibly the most gifted golfer the world has ever seen.

In the context of English football, Rooney does have a talent that makes him separate – as we were reminded in flashes at Wembley last Friday night – but there is no argument that his form has slipped quite alarmingly, even to the point where some are asking if the best of him, at the age of 24, has already gone.

That may be an extreme fear but for the moment there does indeed seem to be a missing dimension. He played beautifully at times when opening up the way for his strike partner Jermain Defoe against the Bulgarians but, by his old standards, there were also occasions when he seemed to lack the hard edge of conviction that in the past has been his greatest strength.

In Basle tomorrow night Rooney may take another step along the way to some more significant rehabilitation of lost form. In the meantime, however, there must be the worry that he and too many of his team-mates are piling upon themselves too many pressures unrelated to the business of doing that which they do best.

Possibly the greatest player these islands ever produced, George Best, managed to perform both sexual pyrotechnics, epic drinking and the most sublime football into his middle twenties, and then slid away from the mountain top. That was in a different age, when the rewards were relatively minuscule, and it took a Best to invent the football paparazzi.

Now the world has changed and they are everywhere, the cameras and the girls itching to tell their stories, waiting for a Rooney or a Terry or a Crouch to make one false step. What is surprising, when so much is at stake, is that their prey appear to do so much of the hunting.

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