Wayne Rooney believes he was "blameless" in an altercation with a paparazzi photographer whom he claims was "persistently invading the privacy" of an evening he was sharing with his wife Coleen in London on Tuesday.
Rooney was interviewed under caution by police outside a restaurant in Hanway Street after allegedly spitting at the photographer who, according to Rooney's version of events, followed the couple inside. "The photographer had to be evicted. Wayne was happy to co-operate fully and to give a clear version of the events in which he believes he was blameless," a spokesman for the 22-year-old said yesterday.
It remains to be seen if the incident will elicit further action from the Metropolitan Police. Deliberately spitting at someone is an offence of common assault. But the altercation, which saw Rooney questioned at the scene but not arrested, contributes to a sense that married life has not – in its first two months at any rate – calmed him down and that a summer of inactivity has left the Manchester United striker as combustible as ever.
It was Pele who suggested three weeks ago that Rooney needed to check his temper – to "learn how to defend himself, not attack the opponent" – and Rooney demonstrated the legend's point only too visibly a week later when the physicality of the Kaizer Chiefs defenders saw him boil over in Cape Town. Rooney might have been booked for kicking out at Onismor Bhasera in the first half and was puce-faced by the time he earned a justifiable yellow for ploughing into Tinashe Nengomasha.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who substituted Rooney for his own good, is rarely inclined to suggest his player needs to watch his temper. "Wayne's a fighter isn't he?" the United manager said. "He's a born fighter and gets frustrated in some games." It was a familiar line of argument. "I would rather have a player who showed a bit of heart than just accepted it," Ferguson said three years ago after more inner rage had contributed to England's excruciating 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland in Belfast. "If he didn't do that, he would be criticised for not caring enough, so what do people want?"
Rooney's temperament is now spawning a vocabulary all of its own. The Chinese footballer Ma Xiaoxu, expected to be a star of the hosts' women's side at the Olympics until picking up an injury this week, is known as the "female Wayne Rooney" because of her talent and temper.
But Rooney is reaching a critical stage in his personal development. Last season was a disappointing one by his own standards; the first since he burst onto the scene at Everton six years ago in which he did not exceeded his previous campaign's goal tally, and there is a growing consensus that his temperament is checking his development.
Fabio Capello acknowledged as much after another red-faced performance in England's 2-0 friendly victory over the United States in May when Rooney battered a loose ball into the advertising hoardings when a decision went against him and then risked sanction for two crude challenges. The England coach admitted he would be discussing the issue with him. "I have to explain to him that he must not do these tackles," Capello said. "I've seen the same thing in training. It is normal for him, and I told him that, but I was worried for the other players."
Ferguson is probably the only manager who can effect any change. He acknowledged during United's South African tour that had had contributed to the player's frustration last season by not better defining his role in the team and hinted that, temperamentally at least, there is room for development. "At 22 he was never going to be the finished article," Ferguson said. "When you sign players at 18 it's for the long view."
Red mist: When England's finest talent has boiled over
The invective: Vents his spleen at David Beckham during the 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland in September 2005
The stamp: Becomes only the third England player to be dismissed in a World Cup match when he was sent off for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho during the quarter-final against Portugal in 2006, which England lost on penalties.
The pre-season rage: Sent off again in August 2006 during a match against Porto in the Amsterdam Tournament for elbowing defender Pepe. Similar anger in Cape Town against Kaizer Chiefs last month.