Pressures off the pitch are 10 times higher now than they were in my time as a player, and few in the game carry a burden of expectation as great as the nation's dominant footballing talent. It is also true that footballers are hardly the only ones who make mistakes. But responsibility always comes back to the individual, and for that reason I have no sympathy for Wayne Rooney and the situation he finds himself in this weekend. Footballers may do an extraordinary job, but they are still ordinary people.
Rooney is a young man who lives a very high-profile life. We all know the downside: mistakes are magnified. People have high expectations from footballers, but it's because they see them earning millions endorsing an image they feel, rightly or wrongly, is sometimes made to look false.
And make no mistake, this is a crucial test for Rooney. It is not beyond the realms to imagine this is the tipping point of his career – this may be the last mistake he makes, or he could throw it all away. He is so talented on the pitch but is now at a crossroads.
For that reason, Sir Alex Ferguson's guidance will be crucial. I am sure the songwriters in the Gwladys Street End will have been hard at work. Will the Manchester United manager try to shield him and keep him on the bench? He may decide that it is best to just let him go ahead and play. The best place to be in tough times is often out on the pitch – it was the same with Paul Gascoigne. That is where everything is simple for him.
But it is not always that easy. There were glimpses in the World Cup that something was affecting him, something was worrying him. Now it has all come out.
This is different from South Africa, though. For one thing, the secrets are out. For another, he is back in the dressing room with his club-mates – that can be a brutal environment, but players are happy there, they know the drill. You always get stick as a player, off the pitch as well as from the fans at games, and Rooney will have heard it all before.
No one wants to – and we must not – belittle either what Rooney has done or his situation this weekend, but regardless of what goes on once a match is finished or the players have left training, the game will always go on, and that can be a pressure release.
Will he be badly affected? All eyes will be on him.Reuse content