The Last Word: Rooney is spitting image of problem
Football cries out for inspirational leaders as players and managers alike combine to set a poor example
Sunday 08 January 2012
When Arthur Hop-craft published his marvellous portrait of the round-ball game in 1968 it was entirely appropriate that he called it The Football Man.
In those days one could use the phrase without people turning away in mockery or disgust. Bobby Moore was the captain of a national side that included the likes of Bobby Charlton and Gordon Banks. The leading managers were men such as Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Bill Nicholson, Joe Mercer and Harry Catterick. Men of substance, every one. They may have represented their clubs, but they spoke for the game.
At the end of another shaming week for English football, on and off the field, it is necessary to ask a question that, in its turn, prompts many others: who now speaks for football? Where are the true football men, who represent the game as the game would like to be represented? Not in a partisan way but in a way, and with a style, that makes those who watch it feel proud that such men exist.
The most obvious place to look is Old Trafford, where Sir Alex Ferguson occupies the office that once belonged to Busby. Yet, despite winning 12 Premier League titles and two European Cups, confirming his reputation as one of the supreme managers, nobody has ever mis-taken Ferguson for an ambassador. He has many admirable qualities, but as a statesman he is no Metternich. Even at 70, when his race is almost run, there is too much anger. People do not like angry men.
Kenny Dalglish enjoyed one of the great careers in post-war football, and is associated with Liverpool as closely as Shankly, who did more than any man to make the club what they are. Or were. After the maladroit handling of the Luis Suarez affair, Liverpool emerge as just another football club, and Dalglish as just another blockheaded manager. And to think that when John Smith and Peter Robinson ran Anfield, the club were the envy of the world.
Everywhere one looks there is stupidity and selfishness, as players and managers link arms in a dance of death. Liverpool players, gripped by a spasm of moral fervour, wear T-shirts to support the disgraced Suarez, as Dalglish promises the player (vomit here should you wish) that he will never walk alone. Chelsea players, evidently schooled in the playground, charge to the dugout after scoring a goal to show "solidarity" with their manager. None of them appear to understand, or to care, how they are perceived by those outside their own little world.
Joey Barton, sent off for an act of aggression, suggests that players may soon take legal action against referees who make poor decisions. Oh boo hoo hoo! Barton, it may be noted, is a fan of the bed-wetting pop group The Smiths, whose existence, wrote that brilliant journalist Richard Williams, represented the best possible advertisement for the reintroduction of national service.
Barton, who seems to have great difficulty taking responsibility for his actions, would certainly benefit from a few weeks on the parade ground. In the old days that is exactly what Stan Cullis, one of Hopcraft's football men, would have given him. Instead, in the topsy-turvy world that rewards him so handsomely, this modestly endowed scuffler is the captain of his club! Lucky old QPR.
Cullis, no less than Busby or Shankly, rooted his club, Wolves, in local soil. These days, clubs may talk about introducing "community" schemes – and some may do good work – but back in the mists of time, before players became separated from the people who watched them, clubs really were community-based. For one thing, there were actual communities.
Now, this very day, we have the horrible situation where police officers will tog themselves in full battle kit for an FA Cup tie in Manchester featuring the clubs who play in that city. But don't worry. When you turn on your television to watch the game you will be told the atmosphere is "terrific".
Yet it is often the smallest incidents that resonate. Perhaps the most revealing sight of last week came at St James' Park, when Wayne Rooney was substituted during Manchester United's 3-0 defeat. Before he reached the sanctuary of the United dugout Rooney spat not once, not twice, but three times.
Rooney is far from alone in indulging in this revolting habit. As the best player in the country, however, he is the most prominent. Here is somebody who, granted a rare talent, should speak for the game, yet all he can do is snarl, and swear, and spit, as though the world is full of snares designed to trap him.
There's no art, as the Bard told us, to find the mind's construction in the face. Rooney's is the most authentic face of English football, and that should concern everybody associated with the sport. Is there nobody out there who will speak for football?
These lily-livered Indians deserve six of the best
India's cricketers have now lost six successive Tests away from the sub-continent. Beaten 4-0 by a very good England team last summer, they have surrendered the first two in Australia, where in Sydney last week the Australian captain, Michael Clarke, helped himself to an unbeaten triple century.
This is not a poor Indian team. In Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid they have the two highest run-makers in Test history. They have others rich in talent or promise and, as world champions in 50-over cricket, they do not lack confidence.
They also enjoy the support of the largest fan club in the world, and their money men have the game's governing body, the International Cricket Council, on a string. Yet their performances away from India continue to be abject.
How can players so gifted have such little respect either for their reputations or, more importantly, the health of Test cricket? What a lily-livered bunch they are. In a better-ordered world they would be charged with bringing the game into disrepute.
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