Howard Jacobson: In Rooney I see Coriolanus, engine of war

Some such confusion and rage will almost always explain the strange human impulse to defect
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In this week of a thousand cuts one has to wonder whether Wayne Rooney's cynical tackle on his manager might have been better timed.

If we are all, as the Chancellor insists, meant to be in this together, don't you bank your £90,000 a week, say a little prayer of thanks, and keep your head down?

So Ronaldo is earning £60,000 a week more. So what? Rooney should console himself with the thought that there are people out there, considered comfortably off, earning £89,000 a week less. Be grateful, Wayne. Or at the very least, be tactful. And in a quiet moment admit to yourself that there's nothing more you need. Ah, yes – self-esteem. And only money can give you that?

That these are obscene sums goes without saying. But what's to be done? Market forces dictate and we obey. And if the football-watching, ad-consuming public is willing one way or another to shell out sufficient cash to justify such salaries, there is no practical objection to be made. The player – so the argument goes – is paid proportionately to the entertainment he provides.

Except that right now Wayne Rooney doesn't provide any, does he? When did anyone last enjoy watching Wayne Rooney play football, not counting the German fans at Bloemfontein? When did Wayne Rooney last give anyone not from Montenegro a good time? I doubt his wife would consider him worth £13,000 a day at the moment, and the two working women with whom he recently sought solace didn't report being all that impressed with his form, though it's always possible they were paid £60,00 apiece to say so – in which case, if they are anything like their client, they too might now be wishing they had asked for more. Or had done it with Ronaldo, instead. Ah, reader, what sweet times we have been living in ever since Mrs Thatcher exhorted us to forget the concept of society and accumulate all the worldly goods we can, because it is only by accumulation that we become virtuous.

In fairness to Rooney, he looks like a man who doesn't know what his grievances are because he has lost the point of himself. He is not a grace and beauty player for whom having a ball at his feet is its own reward. He is bullishly exhilarating, a powerhouse, a one-man stampede, which means that when he is not knocking down fences he is damned if he knows what else to do. There have been times in the past half year when he has pawed the ground and snorted, like a beast whose bulk feels suddenly disadvantageous to him.

That great engine of war Coriolanus comes to mind, allowing that Rooney has yet to demonstrate Coriolanus's nobility of character. Coriolanus, too, went over to the enemy when he felt he had been undervalued at home. I take it that some such confusion and rage will almost always explain the strange human impulse to defect. If you won't give me what you want, I won't just leave and seek a world elsewhere, I will offer my lethal services to the competition. There is self-hurt in it, as though you must take charge of your own pain and, by joining those you hate, declare war against yourself. This is the masochist's creed, and Rooney has increasingly embraced it, now saying it's about money, now about not being loved enough, now about trophies, while smarter heads than his plot new ways of getting rich on the back of his bemusement.

For my own part I'm trying to figure out why I felt so affronted by his ever having talked about joining Manchester City. What do I care? I'm a Manchester United supporter, is the quick answer to that. But that only prompts another question: why am I a Manchester United supporter? I'm not sure that football has anything to do with it. I think I prefer United to City because I prefer red to blue, because the red of United evokes passion while the blue of City is anaemic. Even the word United has heat in it, while City is cold. And this is reflected in the way they play. If you have a hot name you play a hot game, and if you have a cold name you play a cold game. In an idle hour go through the names of all the clubs in England – you will see that as they sound, so they perform. Chelsea, hot. Chelmsford City, cold.

Since I was born in Manchester and have never given a damn about football I could have supported either side. But if one has to support a team – and it is priggish these days not to – it might as well be one associated with success. In this, I confess, I am scarcely more subtle or more loyal than Rooney. I want trophies. Whereas those who support City do so for the same reason people support Tottenham: they want the opposite to trophies – nothing. Here is why you will find more Mancunian Jews supporting City than United, and more London Jews supporting Tottenham than Arsenal or Chelsea. They want to consume their Saturday evenings, when the Shabbes is out, beating their breasts, railing against their team, and by implication, cursing God. It suits their gloomy natures more to complain than to rejoice. And of course the failure of their team gives them better material for comedy. You win, there's nothing funny. You punch the air, get pissed, and end up punching one another. But you lose and you have hours of analysis and self-derision to look forward to.

In this, then, Rooney's masochism could have found reflection. City might have suited him. And were he to go on playing as badly as he's been playing he would have suited City fans. I can hear the abuse now. Roo – neee! It smells of blood. The unforgiving jeering at a wounded animal.

Though by the time he'd signed it's possible that Manchester City would have become so successful on the back of its petroleum-based riches that its most loyal supporters would have changed allegiance and become United fans. You have to go where the failure is if you're a City fan. And by the obverse logic, United fans, accustomed to gorging on triumph, would have switched to City. In which case Rooney would have been back with those he'd deserted. Maybe he'd worked that out. Is he smarter than we imagined? Was the whole thing – the loss of form, the prostitutes, the tantrums – only ever about doubling his salary in advance of losing his child benefit?

Roo – ney!

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