Sam Wallace: Rooney was simply looking after No 1 – there are bigger public enemies

Rooney might well think it would have been less hassle if he had joined the City of London instead of threatening to join City of Manchester.
Click to follow

If there was one major tactical error that Wayne Rooney made when executing the textbook coup that landed him his gold-plated new contract, it was bringing the whole plot to the boil in the same week that the Government's latest austerity measures cut 500,000 jobs and £81bn from public spending.

In case you missed it, Rooney is currently copping the blame for everything from the recession to the rise in council house rents – and that is just the polite criticism. Rooney might have won the battle to make him Manchester United's best-paid footballer but the judgement from some quarters has been severe. In modern Britain what you earn defines you, and everyone thinks they know what Rooney earns.

There are plenty of much richer men than Rooney in this country and many of them have earned their fortunes employing far more aggressive tactics than Rooney did in his contract stand-off of the last two months. But, as opposed to the hedge fund investors or private equity tycoons, Rooney is a footballer and footballers are expected to sign up to a nebulous pact of loyalty with their clubs – although loyalty is ultimately what shafted generations of Rooney's underpaid predecessors in professional football.

You could be forgiven for thinking it was Rooney's fault that this country has a crippling public deficit that his generation will spend much of their working lives paying off. But it isn't. And while we are on the subject, come April, the Exchequer will take its 50 per cent of the £200,000 (give or take) that Rooney earns every week, so no one could say that he is not doing his bit.

Yes, it can be hard to defend the Rooney generation when they fritter away their fortunes on monogrammed seats and matt-black finishes for their swanky cars. No one with any sense would try to defend Rooney's wages to a teacher in an inner-city state school or an NHS nurse, but footballers are not the only ones whose wages are disproportionately large compared to our poor old undervalued key workers.

The easy thing to do is to fulminate about the modern English footballer. To slag him off and protest that the game is not what it used to be. Or wonder why the uppity players of this generation are not happy to retire with a pat on the head and two bob from his club like they did in the good old days. We like our old-fashioned football heroes to be stoic, humble and skint.

The alternative is to ask the question why the Rooney generation are like they are. Why they insist on getting ever richer, and taking their slice of a football industry that has proved recession-proof amid the recent financial chaos. The answer is quite simple, really. Most of the current crop, born at the end of the 1970s, or like Rooney in the 1980s of Thatcher rule, grew up poor in a society that encouraged them to be anything but.

Rooney was once poor. You only have to read his autobiography or drive past his native Croxteth (I've never driven through it) to know that. He is vague about what his father did for a living and his mother was a dinner lady, which is not a profession anyone goes into for the career prospects. There are plenty of more modern, less abrasive terms for the socio-economic class to which he belonged but poor sums it up pretty well.

Rooney was born 25 years ago yesterday into a poor area of a city with high unemployment and urban depopulation in a British society that was rolling back the trades unions and traditional working-class jobs. It would be another 10 years after then that the Establishment was bold enough to put its new ethos in more direct terms, but essentially Rooney's Britain was a hard place. A place where – to paraphrase Peter Mandelson – people were encouraged to look after No 1 and get filthy rich.

And lots of people have got filthy rich since then. As for Rooney, the sullen kid who trained after school at Everton's academy with scores of other youngsters who never made it, he has embraced the creed. Rooney has become filthy rich, yet having been told all his young life that was what British society wanted him to do, he now finds himself pilloried for it. No wonder he doesn't smile much.

Rooney, like the vast majority of top English footballers, did not come from a nice, middle-class home in the catchment area for a good school. He did not go to university, get a degree and join the graduate training scheme of a big bank. He made the most of what he had. But he could be forgiven for thinking it would have been less of a hassle if he had joined the City of London rather than threatening to join City of Manchester.

The manner in which Rooney strong-armed one of Britain's most famous institutions into paying him £200,000 a week – not to mention upsetting the sensitive old gent in charge of it – has got a lot of people angry. But if his tactics look familiar, don't be surprised. Look around you. Large parts of British society have been doing it for years and most of them do not make the Financial Times news-in-brief section, much less the back page of every national newspaper.

Rooney took on United and won. He made Sir Alex Ferguson backtrack on every rule he ever made and Ferguson was willing to do so because Rooney has a singular talent no one else in this country can hold a candle to. Good luck to him. There are plenty of overpaid mediocrities hiding behind an MBA who have done infinitely more damage than Rooney ever will. He just decided to find out exactly how much he was worth. Isn't that what everyone else does?

England 2018 looks the safe bet for worried Fifa

"The biggest gangster on earth". You can complain about footballers being greedy, but nothing compares to the people who run the game. That quotation was from Michael Zen-Ruffinen about one unnamed Fifa executive committee member in the latest Sunday Times revelations. And as a former Fifa general secretary he should know.

If the English bid to host the 2018 World Cup loses in Zurich on 2 December, there will be the most almighty stink about potential Russian corruption or, as now might be the case, Spanish-Portuguese-Qatari collusion. Which is the strongest evidence yet that Fifa might just give England the World Cup to avoid the scrutiny that is coming its way.

Writing on the wall is wrong but right

The last word on the Rooney saga. I know death threats are wrong. I know graffiti is wrong. But having seen the pictures of the graffiti on Nike's Rooney mural on Market Street in Manchester – "If you join City you're dead" – I cannot be the only grammar pedant who thought, "For all that is wrong with that, I'm really glad they took the trouble to remember the apostrophe".

Comments