Wayne Rooney could spend the rest of his life defending himself against those people who variously despise him for being too arrogant, too aggressive, too rich, too successful or, when he is on his game, too bloody good. Yesterday was a novel experience for him: he found himself pilloried for insisting simply that he was treated according to the rules.
That was Rooney's only expectation when he went to Uefa headquarters in Nyon yesterday to appeal his three-match ban for a red card for kicking Miodrag Dzudovic in England's final Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro. His appeal was not heard according to the disciplinary regulations of the Football Association but under the Uefa guidelines which all nations competing in qualifying for Euro 2012 must endorse.
As per the Uefa rules governing appeals (Part 2, Section F, Article 52), Rooney and the FA paid €1,000 for his case to be heard (justice is relatively swift in Nyon, but is not free) and will have been bound by the appeals body to "tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth and answer in all good conscience any questions" (Part 2, Section F, Article 57.5).
What the consequences of a similar red card incurred by Rooney for Manchester United under the auspices of the FA's disciplinary system would have been are irrelevant. These are two different sets of rules and the violent conduct charge does not exist under Uefa law. Rooney's original three-match Uefa ban was for "assault (Part 1 Section B, Article 10E) which carries a penalty of "suspension for three competition matches or for a specified period".
Those who say that Rooney deserved a three-match ban on the basis that it would have been the FA's tariff had it happened in a Premier League game make the fatuous argument that the player has been treated leniently. He has not. It would be more presumptuous to demand to be treated under FA law when the offence he committed was in a Uefa-sanctioned game for which Uefa rules apply.
There are powerful precedents in Rooney's case too. Check the footage of Andrei Arshavin kicking Andorra's Ildefons Lima in Russia's final Euro 2008 qualifier, the previous year. The offence is almost identical to Rooney's – an off-the-ball moment of petulance – and it earned Arshavin a two-game ban. Unlike Rooney he did not have to go to appeal.
Tom Huddlestone found himself in a similar position to Rooney ahead of the 2009 Under-21s European Championship when he was sent off against Wales for a foul on Darcy Blake in the second leg of the qualifying play-off for the tournament in October of the preceding year. Originally given a three-match ban by Uefa which would have meant he missed the entire group stage, his punishment was reduced to two on appeal.
Yesterday, Uefa made clear to the FA during the hearing that they were impressed that Rooney had attended the appeal in person. They also noted in Rooney's favour that given the high number of Uefa-sanctioned games he had played in over his career – European Championship qualifiers and tournament matches and Champions League games – he had only been sent off once, against Villarreal back in 2005.
All things considered, it would have been odd if Rooney's three-game ban had not been reduced on appeal. There is nothing in the Uefa regulations that says a three-match ban is automatic and there is a great deal in the precedents that says the appeals body has, over the years, decided that two matches for offences of Rooney's nature are more appropriate.
Any nation who had a potential first-team starter banned for three games for a similar offence to that one committed by Rooney would have appealed. The FA, Fabio Capello and the organisation's control and disciplinary department would have been failing in their duty had they done otherwise. As for being arrogant, it should be pointed out that the FA hardly qualifies for the gold medal in that category.
By way of comparison, the Bulgaria football union is appealing its Uefa fine of €40,000 for the Bulgarian fans' blatant racial abuse of England's black players during the Euro 2012 qualifier played in Sofia in September. Bear in mind that the Bulgaria coach at the time, Lothar Matthaus, apologised for the abuse in his post-match press conference. Now that is arrogant.
The FA team successfully argued that a three-match ban in a six-match tournament (optimistic given England's recent record) is disproportionate. A three-game ban in a 38-game league season equates to missing 7.8 per cent of total game-time. That is a very different proposition to being banned for 50 per cent of a tournament.
That is not to suggest that the Rooney ban for Euro 2012 should be exactly proportionate to a three-game ban in a 38-game league season. If that was the case he would be eligible to play after 42 minutes of the first group game against France – an interesting concept, but unworkable in practice. But the argument of proportions when it comes to international football – by its nature more compressed – is valid.
Either way, Rooney did not ride into Uefa HQ yesterday demanding to be treated by anything other than the house rules. The three-match ban laid down by Uefa in October permitted the organisation to send out a stern warning it would be intolerant of behaviour amounting, in its eyes, to "assault" but Uefa gave itself the room to manoeuvre. Providing that Rooney and the FA demonstrated contrition.
European football's governing body owes neither English football nor Rooney any favours yet yesterday they accepted that both had followed the requisite procedure and argued a strong case. As ever with Rooney, even that is not enough for some people.Reuse content