Tuesday, 5 April 2011
Roodimentary Language: A Star On The Wayne?
This isn’t going to be a meditation on the rights and wrongs of using a bit of blue language. It would be hypocritical of us in the extreme to pass judgment on Rooney’s bad language having hurled far worse at the referee when Nemanja Vidic managed to avoid a red card for a professional foul for the 1,295th time of his career, and when our own editorial policy runs something along the lines of ‘Copious Unprofessional Nasty Terminology’ (CUNT).
So far from us attempting to be judge and jury on whether the language itself justifies the proposed two-match ban for the "use of offensive, insulting and/or abusive language" (bearing fully in mind the chants/taunts that come from the direction of the stands/pubs up and down the country), what we’ll focus on is the temperament of the man behind the tirade, and specifically the media/fan reaction to it.
There are two camps here. On the one hand, Rooney has been pilloried for being little more than a foul-mouthed thug who is now so detached from reality atop his tower of ivory that rather than celebrate a goal with delight (which not everyone does anyway, by the by), he’d rather seek out the nearest camera and tell the world’s children what he thinks of them. Petulance is a noun oft-used in conjunction with the England striker. It seemed to have been kept at bay when Rooney was basking in his purple patch a season ago, but then reared its ugly head as his form suffered and he sought out his first cameraman after England’s dismal draw with Algeria in South Africa.
Rooney’s righteous anger has even been questioned by England manager in waiting ‘Arry Redknapp who muses in the Sun: ‘Why is he so angry? I don't remember Bobby Charlton doing that when he smashed one in from 30 yards, or Jimmy Greaves when he scored.’
Redknapp’s bafflement moves me onto the second camp. The camp that trots out the old adage that (altogether now) “He wouldn’t be the player he is if he didn’t have that aggression.” We all know the script. We’ve heard it for nearly 10 years now. Other players this works/has worked for: Duncan Ferguson, Joey Barton, Roy Keane, Lee Cattermole etc. Its become a sort of mantra every time Rooney smashes his elbow into the back of someone’s head or gets tackled and then turns from Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk, haring off after the perpetrator for 30 yards ready to dish out his own special brand of retribution (i.e. twat someone).
It is really quite amazing that the concept that lies behind Rooney as a player isn’t based on his quite obvious skill levels but the very fact that he is a borderline psychopath when he crosses that white line. Talk about a Cycloptic way of looking at it. But a very English way nevertheless. You can imagine Redknapp Junior coming out with something like this: “Wayne Rooney would be half the player if you took that aggression from his game.” He’d also gain half as many games lost to suspension too.
It’s possible this concept of Rooney is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. We all know the story. He ‘exploded onto the scene’. He was ‘raw: pace, power, directness’. He ‘had no fear’, he ‘didn’t respect reputations’ – and he was lauded for it. His skills, a sublime first touch, the ability to finish expertly, the pace, the scorching shot, took a back seat. Here was a new bastion of Englishness, the one proponent of the enduring national stereotype that could ignite the national team. Based on conflict, disruption, the upstart – justified by a word so stupid the English believe it makes up for deficiencies in ability: passion. This ‘bulldog spirit’ is not an asset. It is an excuse and an irrelevance. Moreover, it has wrongly informed perceptions of the Premier League and Wayne Rooney – and possibly even his perception of himself – for years.
That said, of course, football’s governing force is the perceived injustice, and Rooney (and many other footballers) perceive plenty. The constant scrutiny doesn’t help. This ban from the FA won’t help either. But Rooney’s flashes of inspiration/insubordination have almost always been reactive, with the exception of his elbow on James McCarthy – for which it is mind-blowing that he escaped sanctioning. He doesn’t appear to go out looking for fights though, or to intimidate the opposition in the tunnel a la Roy Keane or Patrick Vieira a few years ago.
With Rooney’s aggression nevertheless now trained fully on a sort of "me against the world" mentality that has morphed since his contract dispute, this may not be the last of these kind of outbursts. It could be the spur he needs – since returning from injury and contract resolution he’s scored 11 goals. It’s a little odd that, and he's quite unique in this respect (that sublime volley against Newcastle a case in point), that he needs to be massively wound up to do something brilliant. In the games he hasn't got stuck in, or berated refs, he's been anonymous – which sets a dangerous precedent.
So is Rooney ‘that sort of player’ then? He’s borderline. Four career red cards (two for United, one for Everton and one for England) don’t suggest a dangerously aggressive player. It’s the red-mist, hair-trigger anger that everyone gets so riled by. But would he actually be a worse player if he wasn’t continually telling referees and cameras to go forth and multiply? Could he be a better one? Is it a case of once an onion, always an onion, or can an onion successfully masquerade as an apple albeit one that is prone on occasion to revert back to type? Being consistently defined in terms of the properties of an onion can only result on the focus being perpetually centred on that, rather than any approximation to apples. Ergo the apple is irrevocably sullied. We’ll probably never know, but Rooney’s attitude has been a long time developing under an unceasing spotlight. Channelling aggression is one thing, becoming a slave to it something else entirely.