Nick Townsend: Red alert over this Gazza without the giggles

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For a man who first spied his wife-to-be at a factory strike meeting and romanced her first at nothing more exotic than the Locarno Dance Hall in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, the highly publicised courting rituals of some of his players must leave the 63-year-old Sir Alex Ferguson utterly bemused. But at least when he purchased Wayne Rooney last summer, the Man-chester United manager would have assumed that in the young England forward and his accompanying fiancée, Coleen McLoughlin, he would merely be welcoming two teenagers in love.

For a man who first spied his wife-to-be at a factory strike meeting and romanced her first at nothing more exotic than the Locarno Dance Hall in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, the highly publicised courting rituals of some of his players must leave the 63-year-old Sir Alex Ferguson utterly bemused. But at least when he purchased Wayne Rooney last summer, the Man-chester United manager would have assumed that in the young England forward and his accompanying fiancée, Coleen McLoughlin, he would merely be welcoming two teenagers in love.

Ferguson cannot have realised that he was actually burdening himself with Posh & Becks: The Sequel, or perhaps even worse, Gazza & Sheryl Mark II. Significant general election stories have not deterred the Sun from enhancing our knowledge of the pair virtually every day in a remarkable week which began with Rooney being reported as slapping Coleen in a Cheshire nightclub, after she had complained, perhaps not unreasonably, about his dalliances with prostitutes, yet which somehow culminated in Friday's front-page "exclusive interview" headlined: "Wayne's the love of my life".

Just what it is about this millionaire, high-profile footballer - to borrow from Mrs Merton - that has brought about such a transformation in attitudes, we will leave for others to discuss. But certainly Rooney has entered an unfamiliar world, one that was largely alien to him under David Moyes and Bill Kenwright at Everton.

There is a word these days for the Footballers' Wives house - by all accounts, a mini-Beckingham Palace - Wayne and Coleen are having built, and those paparazzi-pursued excessive shopping expeditions. In youth vernacular, such ostentatious displays of wealth are apparently referred to as "chav". More informed judges on such matters than me suggest that she is the princess of it.

This Poshette, a soon-to-be new face of Vogue, evidently has designs on a celebrity lifestyle. Quite how her consort feels about his own features constantly decorating the red-tops is more in doubt. Unlike Beckham, there is no evidence that McLoughlin's partner either relishes or is capable of handling such a lifestyle under constant media scrutiny.

What should concern his manager is that, while McLoughlin bears all the distinguishing marks of a would-be Victoria Beckham, her fiancé is already reminiscent less of a David Beckham, more of a Paul Gascoigne; albeit a Gazza without the giggles. Both were born with a breadth of intuitive skills and a rich genius; both have a tendency to self-destruct on the field, while off it other parallels are becoming depressingly familiar, too. For Sheryl, read Coleen, if there is substance to the slapping story.

The British obsession with celebrity minutiae means that every aspect of his life is scrutinised. There will always be an alcohol-fuelled oaf in a nightclub ready to taunt him into some indiscretion. In public, his manager maintains a staunch defence of his prodigy. Beneath that façade, the shield of support is probably wearing thin. There is some truth in Ferguson's contention that Rooney has merely replaced Beckham as a media obsession. But the United manager must also be conscious that while the England captain handled that fascination with aplomb, and indeed manipulated it, together with his wife, Rooney is not similarly blessed with such attributes.

"Wayne is still only 19," protests Ferguson. "What's he going to do? Sit in the house all day for the rest of his life?" Not necessarily; but if Rooney regards himself as a dedicated professional, then sacrifices have to be made by a player whose reputation has deteriorated from ace of clubs to one perceived in some quarters as little more than a king of tarts. His family, his business representatives, his club, must all accept responsibility for providing constant reminders of that.

In a season of United underachievement, Rooney has flourished - if we ignore his bad-mouthing of officials. He boasts nine goals, a tally bettered only by Paul Scholes, and is arguably his club's most consistent performer. But, just as we witnessed with Gascoigne's career, there is sufficient evidence of a potential fall from grace. Ferguson would do well to heed the warning.

Ultra tough? You are joking

So, Uefa have thrown the book at Internazionale? Make that a slim volume of the wisdom of European football's governing body. Four matches to be played behind closed doors (and another two suspended), plus an irrelevant fine, is deemed to be an appropriate response to the pyrotechnic pageant at the San Siro on Tuesday night.

It was our old friend, Uefa's director of communications, William Gaillard, who observed, having witnessed the Ultras, the hardcore Inter supporters, lob flares on to the pitch, one of which struck Milan's goalkeeper, Nelson Dida: "We are still in a state of shock. There have been several shocking incidents recently, but this is the worst." On Friday, that shock had evidently abated as he defended the punishment with such sentiments as: "You have to put it in the context of the game. There were no further injuries apart from a slight one to the goalkeeper, which we absolutely regret..."

The logic and natural justice of ground closures or suspension of a team from competition have tended to escape this observer. It can surely be appropriate only if the club involved are adjudged to have been negligent. In Internazionale's case, not only do the club have "previous", extending back to a Uefa Cup game in 2001, but regrettably, this concerns more than a handful of supporters.

The situation is an indictment of the complacency of the management and players, with the coach, Robert Mancini, avoiding the issue, the former Manchester United man Juan Veron apparently describing the dispatch of flares as "understandable", and his team-mates Ivan Cordoba and Esteban Cambiasso hiding behind the preposterous alibi that it was "the fault of the refereeing decisions".

The Milan police stand condemned, too, for their tolerance of Inter's Curva Nord, apparently a safe habitat for the Ultras. Like some isolated sheriff in a lawless Western town, the chief of Milan police offered this pathetic excuse: "We confiscated two boxes of flares on the way in, but once inside it was impossible for us to get at troublemakers. They were surrounded by other fans."

Inter will suffer financially, with a projected loss of around £5.5m in revenue, but the punishment is far from draconian - and this from a body whose representatives were issuing all manner of dire threats against Chelsea, with Gaillard claiming after the Nou Camp conflict that the London club were guilty of "lying and making false statements".

You have to put it into the context of the game, he says. One would suggest to him that Tuesday's incendiary-fest in Milan places the Jose Mourinho-Frank Rijkaard-Anders Frisk affair into context too. Harsh words may have been hurled in the aftermath, but as far as we are aware no one required treatment for burns.

Comments