Steve Richards: Of wealth, welfare and worship

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The Independent Online

Imagine what it must be like if you are a tenant on housing benefit and a fan of Manchester United.

Some tenants have discovered this week that their benefit will be cut. As they work out whether they need to move to cheaper lodgings or can save a few pounds in order to stay in their chosen home, Rooney has negotiated his new contract in which he will earn more in a week than some of his fans will in a decade.

Not all those who will lose benefits are necessarily lazy or "scroungers". Some work harder than pampered footballers and, in their own fields, are at least as successful. Let us not forget that Rooney was a hopeless player for England in the World Cup as that squad of cocooned louts were outplayed by classy, more sophisticated and in some cases lower-paid footballers. Since then he has not played well and has faced accusations in some newspapers about his private life. His reward is a contract that makes him more than a million every two months.

The contrast between the planned spending cuts, the overwhelming story of the week, and the parallel universe of the premiership is so preposterous as to be grotesque and darkly comic. Each day a newspaper is a game of two halves. On the front pages are stories about cuts. On the back Rooney's riches reach new, unimaginable heights.

British football is out of control and needs regulating urgently. The lightly regulated market is wrecking the game. As a Spurs fan, I know that the club's star player, Gareth Bale, will be plucked away by a richer club. Mighty wealth determines the fate of teams. The fans should resist idolatry. Not all players deserve worship. And yet, I suspect that the victims of the cuts who support Man Utd will soon be chanting "Rooney" once more. I hope the multi-millionaire is grateful.

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