On his Twitter page last week, Wayne Rooney lost his cool with one of his abusive followers and had a Travis Bickle moment. "I will put u asleep within 10 seconds u little girl," Rooney tweeted, an ill-judged outburst of Croxteth trash-talk that will no doubt soon be adorning unlicensed merchandise all around Old Trafford.
With more than 600,000 followers, including every media outlet in the world, it was not the best idea. Rooney is on Twitter of his own volition and as such has put himself there to be shot at, so although he did not ask to be told in graphic terms how his head would be split with a pitching wedge, he could always quit if he wanted.
But this being Rooney, the most scrutinised sportsman plying his trade in Britain, the story went everywhere, even as far as the BBC website. You might have thought it would end there; but no. The Football Association has also written to Rooney to "exercise more caution", and why not? I mean, it is not as if our august governing body have anything else to do at the moment.
Nope, it has been a quiet week at the FA. Just a meltdown in staff morale as revealed in a leaked internal survey, a mealy-mouthed abstention in the Fifa presidential vote, the mother of all rows with Arsenal over Jack Wilshere playing for the Under-21s, a looming legal case over Queen's Park Rangers and a Champions League final to organise. But Rooney says something daft on Twitter and a big siren goes off somewhere in the FA disciplinary department.
So Rooney finds himself the recipient of an FA warning for threatening to punch someone he has never met and in all likelihood, never will meet. It does make you wonder what happens if Rooney did punch someone one day. Would a spell at Guantanamo Bay be deemed sufficient punishment?
Meanwhile, in rugby union, whose governing body proves itself to be even more detached from reality, the RFU has given Manu Tuilagi, the Leicester centre, a mere five-week ban for doing what Rooney only threatened. Tuilagi's vicious three-punch salvo at Chris Ashton nine days ago was certainly intended to put the recipient to sleep and, judging by the ferocity with which he threw the third, in less than 10 seconds.
In this case Tuilagi is fortunate that he does not wear the No 10 shirt for Manchester United. But the younger brother of five Samoan internationals does have one thing in common with Rooney. Tuilagi has aspirations to play his sport at international level for England and, despite almost knocking off the head of the team's current superstar live on Sky Sports (and in HD), he has been assured that this – ahem – loss of composure will not impact his chances of making the World Cup squad.
It is a truly remarkable state of affairs which would be amusing were it not for the image of Ashton's head ricocheting under that third punch that keeps replaying itself in my mind. So how does Tuilagi get away so lightly? By way of explanation, an esteemed rugby journalist wrote last week that there is an unspoken code in rugby union that being punched viciously in the head is, well, just part of the deal.
Really? Try telling a court that this was just some rugger japes – nothing worse than drinking a pint through a team-mate's sock in the clubhouse of the Old Fartonians. What Tuilagi did to Ashton falls in the category of assault. The England scrum-half Danny Care tweeted: "Tuilagi should be in prison after that punch."
When Ben Thatcher assaulted Pedro Mendes with his elbow in a game between Manchester City and Portsmouth five years ago, the FA's desperately ineffective policy on not taking retrospective action (ludicrously Thatcher was only booked) meant that it said at first that it could not punish him further. Then Greater Manchester Police said if that was the case they would press charges. Funnily enough, the FA moved pretty quickly after that.
It might be an idea if the Leicestershire Constabulary did the same to spur the RFU into action, but don't bet on it. These days it seems like you have to be trending on Twitter before action gets taken.
While we are on the subject of the other codes, you might have missed the revelations in The Sun on 12 May that Shaun Leaf, the captain of rugby league's Doncaster, bet £200 on his team to lose a match. The newspaper had video footage of the player in the bookmakers where he went to such lengths to conceal his identity that he appeared to still be wearing his gear from training.
Leaf has been suspended by Doncaster while he is investigated by the RFL, although the club have claimed "significant mitigating circumstances". From his testimony to the undercover reporter it does not sound like he was the first player in his sport to bet against his own team. Again, the comparison with Rooney speaks volumes: one loses his rag on Twitter, the other one sells his team-mates and his sport down the river.
Rooney has responsibilities and he sometimes falls short, but his life is held up to the microscope every day in a way that Tuilagi and Leaf – at least until this month – could not imagine. And when there is attention like that there will always be someone who wants a slice of it, like the man at the FA who sent Rooney that letter. But that does not mean the rest of us cannot make our minds up on what constitutes a real offence.
Dzeko needs to move fast to avoid being prize turkey
Upon reading the headline last week that pioneering doctors in America had given a previously immobile sportsman the use of his legs again, my first thought was: fair play to Manchester City, they really will stop at nothing to get a decent performance out of Edin Dzeko.
Turns out it wasn't Dzeko. However, the £27m man must be chuffed that Fernando Torres has bombed at Chelsea or it would be Dzeko who would be most people's first choice for the January transfer window turkey. Apparently Dzeko took a year to find his feet at Wolfsburg before he became the most sought-after striker in the Bundesliga. He might have to be considerably quicker at City next season.
Youthful promise attracts thousands
I'm looking forward to the second leg of the FA Youth Cup final tonight between Sheffield United and Manchester United at Old Trafford, with the tie nicely poised at 2-2. The first leg was absorbing with some promising players on both sides.
Most intriguing about the game at Bramall Lane was the size of the crowd: 29,977. It was the club's biggest attendance in 18 months and 6,000 bigger than their average this season. It was a magnificent turnout from the long-suffering Blades fans, whose team had been relegated from the Championship this season. And it shows that the prospect of success in a cup competition, even the FA Youth Cup, still resonates as strongly as ever.Reuse content