James Lawton: Rooney's unforgivable betrayal is of his talent
With each new example of failed commitment, there is the haunting memory of quite what he promised
You never know, one day Wayne Rooney might just wake up and wonder if he has anything or anybody left to betray. But who would bet on it? The increasingly uncomfortable truth, if there could be any bleaker speculation on the future of a sumptuously gifted 26-year-old footballer, is that if it was ever going to happen it would probably have done so by now.
Rooney's latest failure of will and discipline is still another invitation to review the huge gap between the promise of his talent – and his own projections of it – and the reality of his current record.
When Sir Alex Ferguson left him out of the game with Blackburn Rovers, then watched the chance to regain a grip on the Premier League race disintegrate so shockingly, we could only speculate on the degree of his anger.
Indeed, there was just one certainty. It was the manager's fresh dismay when he discovered that not only was Rooney less than contrite about appearing for training with the appearance and demeanour of a rumpled hangover victim rather than a £160,000-a-week professional sportsman, he was also bemused and indignant, even angry.
Such a level of denial – which included his tweet that his resolution was to finish the new year as he started it, a champion – would be stunning if it had not been preceded by so much evidence of a fault line in his competitive character.
His latest situation cried out for a fresh appraisal of his inability to be remotely as good as his word.
Even if we have assigned to ancient history the miseries he inflicted upon himself and all those around him with his derelict performance in the South African World Cup, his off-field behaviour, his cynical contract ambush of United and the risible camouflage of his accusation that the club lacked ambition, the indictment is still heavy against a man who appears congenitally disposed towards saying one thing and doing another.
Remember his declaration after last spring's Champions League final defeat by Barcelona at Wembley, in which, to be fair, he looked head and shoulders above any of his team-mates? It was quite bracing in both its ambition and its humility.
He said that every player in the world had an obligation to follow the example of his recent conqueror Lionel Messi. He pointed to one of the great virtues of the little maestro, his implacable pursuit of perfection.
It was no easy task he was setting himself, but, yes, he was now dedicated to walking in the footsteps of the world's best player. Except, that is, when the temptations of a holiday breakout were just too compelling; except when a piece of high-flying self-promotion could be conveniently side-footed into touch.
How many times must Rooney betray himself and others before someone like Ferguson or England manager Fabio Capello decides that every promise, every surge of brilliance, is destined to end in the most crushing anticlimax?
Rooney, who should be England's most reliable asset heading to this summer's European finals, goes into the tournament a lame duck who misses the first two games for a piece of red-mist ill-discipline which would have shamed anyone's international record even had it not come five years after his disgraceful exit from the World Cup of 2006.
The latest episode is so dismaying because it comes so late in the Rooney story. At 26, he should now be professionally formed. It is the age when his brilliant predecessor George Best was firmly into the tragic decline that took him, day by day, further away from a breath-taking level of consistency.
Rooney's career profile is more staccato. Exceptional performance is mixed in with periods of unaccountable mediocrity. One day he is a god, the next he is hapless and apparently indifferent to what is happening around him.
With each new example of failed commitment, or dysfunctional professional character, there is inevitably the haunting memory of quite what he promised. If you happened to be at Goodison Park the day he, while not yet 17, destroyed Arsène Wenger's great Arsenal team, you could be excused believing that you had seen the future of English football – and that it worked. Wenger had never been so enthusiastic about English-grown talent. "He is the best young English player I have ever seen," the manager declared.
There was the same degree of certainty after he had inspired England to a European qualifying victory over World Cup semi-finalists Turkey in Sunderland. Playing in his first competitive international, Rooney ignited England. He made the "golden generation" look like a collection of bit players. He had authority, a touch that was nothing less than imperious.
In his absence last weekend, you were also bound to remember the day he scored two stupendous goals against Middlesbrough and the way a posse of kids chased his sports car as he gunned it out of the Old Trafford car park and into a night that promised only more idolatry.
The kids, like the rest of us, had reason to believe that they were chasing something more than a shooting star. Perhaps he was a footballer of the ages, some miraculous throwback to those days when great players were born in the streets and for whom playing the game would always be at the centre of their lives.
A lot of us have reason to suspect something rather different now and there is a good chance this number includes those kids who risked their lives running behind his shiny new car. They may have to take their place in a lengthening queue, but they too may be inclined to believe they are among the betrayed.
Lendl will show how to bring out best
Ivan Lendl is an unlikely choice as the man to lead the hugely talented Andy Murray away from the shadows of introspection.
A wonderfully gifted player, Lendl displayed a lot of impressive qualities but they did not include – at least not obviously – any flair for uncomplicated enjoyment of the fruits of success.
What he did do, though, and quite relentlessly, was slave in pursuit of every morsel of his natural ability. It brought eight Grand Slam titles and some agonising near misses at Wimbledon.
The instinct here is that Murray, who can sometimes be gloomy enough to be a refugee from a Swedish movie, is in more pressing need of the kind of perspective enjoyed by Boris Becker, who as a newly disposed teenaged Wimbledon champion reminded a packed press conference that "no one died out there".
Lendl is not odds-on to point this out to Murray after one of his wearisome rants. Still, he is certainly qualified to explain what it takes to get the best out of yourself when it truly matters. It is maybe not the worst place to start.
Just admit you were wrong, Liverpool
Before an appeal decision is made, Liverpool Football Club are hopefully reflecting on the FA explanation for the eight-game suspension of Luis Suarez a little more deeply than some of their more zealous supporters.
Predictably enough, some of the FA reasoning has failed to rationalise totally a debate that at one bizarre extreme yesterday offered in the Uruguayan's defence the "I Have a Dream" speech of Martin Luther King. It was pointed out that the great civil rights leader freely used the terms negro and black in the oration that thundered across the world.
Barmy, of course, but it does illustrate a rather shocking failure to understand the context of Suarez's offence, not to mention the need for Liverpool to concede the merit of a speedy acceptance that their initial reaction was both misguided and unworthy of the reputation of a great football club.
A lot of the dialectics in this affair have been frankly and perhaps inevitably disordered. What is needed, surely, is not any more of the same but an act of grace. Liverpool should not delay too long the chore of admitting they were wrong. They certainly shouldn't fear the gloating of bitter rivals. Gratitude would, after all, be a more appropriate response.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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