Wayne Rooney, the England footballer who has braved defenders' brutal tackles, stern referees, the purple-faced wrath of his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, the potential side-effects of dealing with the world's oldest profession, and even his wife's credit card bills, was finally cowed into submission yesterday by the prospect of meeting some fellow Liverpudlians.
At the end of six days in which he has starred for England on the pitch, and been revealed as a serial user of prostitutes off it, the £100,000-a-week striker did not play in Manchester United's match with his old club Everton lest the home crowd's robust criticism of his behaviour prove too enjoyable for them, and too uncomfortable for him. He thus joins Tiger Woods in hoisting that hitherto unfamiliar banner: "Infidelity Stops Play".
As well as the likelihood of some knockabout Scouse humour being chanted by the Goodison Park regulars, there had also been talk in advance of black bin bags being thrown on to the pitch – these, apparently, by way of tribute to rumours that Rooney was thrown out of his house by his wife and took his belongings off in a bin bag. The story seems unlikely, mainly because Coleen Rooney, always one of the more sensible WAGs, has spent the week with her parents, declining to see her errant husband until yesterday.
Ferguson said of Rooney's absence: "We made the decision simply because Wayne gets terrible abuse here and we're not going to subject him to it." The statement, and Rooney's no-show, was worrying news for Manchester United fans since it suggested that their club's side is no longer being selected on merit, but by the quality of rival fans' invective. Ferguson, however, was quick to reassure: "We have a fantastic squad, so we are using it. Wayne will play against Rangers in the Champions League on Tuesday." The cost, however, of Rooney's sidelining was considerable: the dropping of two points by United.
So ends a week seedy even by the demandingly shabby standards of English football. It began when the News of the World revealed that, during his wife's pregnancy, Rooney, in the timeless parlance, consorted with a £1,200-a-night prostitute, Jennifer Thompson. Other women made claims about the player's extramarital activities, lurid pictures were published with some relish, and the farce was further fuelled when Ms Thompson's parents issued an apology to Mrs Rooney.
By Thursday, the saga lacked only a gynaecological analysis from William Hague. Then Friday brought solemn words from Wayne and Coleen, despite the fact that they had still not met since before the previous weekend. This was reportedly put right with a five-hour family pow-wow yesterday afternoon, ahead of which the couple said: "It is impossible for us, as it would be for any family, to attempt to resolve any issues in the current media glare and against the backdrop of so many inaccurate and intrusive stories. We would therefore ask that the media now respect our privacy and the right of our family to discuss these matters in private."
Ferguson endorsed this approach. Refusing to discuss Rooney's private life, he said on Friday: "Let's put it to bed straight away" – a sentiment very much in line with the policy of his most famous player.