Ken Jones: Short fuse threatens to burn out great talent

Rooney was dismissed for contempt, the contempt in which he seems to hold authority

According to the coaching fraternity and the cliché mongers on television, commitment explains all in the process of winning and losing, a striven for energy force that can be at its most potent in adversity.

There is nothing new in this but the dismissal of Wayne Rooney during the Champions' League match between Villarreal and Manchester United on Wednesday night suggests, not for the first time, that for those with a short fuse the relentless quest for total engagement in football carries the seeds of its own destruction.

In the week that England regained the Ashes from Australia in great style, with behaviour becoming to officers and gentlemen, nothing, not even the presence of both Rooney's managers, Sir Alex Ferguson and Sven Goran Eriksson, was enough to prevent him picking up two yellow cards, one for a lunge at Villarreal captain Quique Alvarez, the second for mocking applause in the face of the referee Kim Milton Nielsen. Rooney was dismissed for contempt, the contempt in which it seems he holds authority.

Technically and physically, Rooney is beyond all reasonable doubt the outstanding footballer of his generation, the key figure in England's quest for the World Cup in Germany next year. But what is to become of him? Who can curb Rooney's hair-trigger petulance?

Not Eriksson, whose failure to bring the teenage tearaway to heel had serious repercussions in Belfast last week when Rooney brought bedlam to the England dressing-room at half-time, unleashing four-letter abuse at his captain David Beckham as the tactically dishevelled national team stumbled to defeat against Northern Ireland.

On the basis of frustration, Sir Alex Ferguson defended Rooney's outburst. "He is always playing close to the edge," the United manager said. The burning question for Ferguson and Eriksson, though, is whether they can control Rooney's explosive nature. On it may hinge England's prospects in the World Cup and Manchester United's chances of repeating their Champions' League success of 1999.

Managers must move carefully. To my mind verbal assaults on match officials are the visible result of stoking hotter and hotter fires in players to ensure they perform at a proper level of intensity. (It would seem that professionals, who by definition are supposed to deliver a high standard, who have jobs at stake and families to support and egos to bulwark and team-mates to join in a common cause, have enough natural stimulation without the artificial jive of coaches, but that is another story.)

To say merely that cases of unruly behaviour are a symptom of the times in which we live supposes that the impulse to take up sport is very often today the impulse to earn millions.

The trouble is that a generation of sports millionaires, some like Rooney still teenagers, are encouraged by television and popular prints to see themselves as movie and rock stars entitled to adoration, the pamperings of luxury, and no questions asked about comportment on the playing fields. Those who attempt to intellectualise sport, particularly football, are often equally to blame for the behavioural shortcomings of today's heroes.

Rooney had a tough upbringing. He made his debut at Everton under a hard manager, David Moyes, who brought him along steadily. Since there is not the slightest hint that Eriksson has the answer to Rooney's problems it has to be found by Ferguson, whose record suggests that he can control the prodigy.

Recently, I read that if the difference between winning and losing turns on an official's call, it must take considerable character not to blow up. The suggestion was that it would take a saint.

I put this to the former Arsenal captain Frank McLintock, who is by far the most sensibly forthright and lucid of Sky Television's football pundits.

"Because there is so much at stake in the Premiership and the Champions' League you try to make allowances and, of course, everything wasn't all sweetness and light in my day," he said. "Difference was we knew how far to go."

Rooney's relations with officials are so frequently subject to emotional disturbance that you begin to fear for him. Unless Ferguson has the answer it is no exaggeration to suggest that one of the greatest talents at work in the game today could self-destruct before the age of maturity.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test