Sunday, August 06, 2006

No Excuses

The latest victim culture in Britain is springing up around Wayne Rooney. So used to being heralded as the saviour of English football, it seems as if he's starting to believe the hype. Whenever a red card is brandished his way, he suddenly plays dumb and looks disbelieving. Worse still, he's got an army of cheerleaders - led by Sir Alex Ferguson, no less - who seem determined to try and absolve him of any blame. The sad truth is, he doesn't deserve it.

There is no doubt Rooney is a fantastic talent. His greatest skill of all, moreover, is the one that is picked up least frequently by the media. Quite simply, his positional sense for someone so young is outstanding. In Euro 2004, I can't remember an instance where he wasn't in the right position for the rest of the team. Supplying a quality player is made even easier when he knows exactly where to be.

The downside, however, is that he has a brattish temperament. Playing for England in a friendly against Spain, he became so impetuous he had to be substituted early to avoid what was surely an inevitable red card. Any substitution is met with a very public display of throwing the toys out of the pram (or, more accurately, the water bottles from the dugout). And the scowl on his face when the referee blows the whistle against him isn't one of frustration, it's one of hate. He has an anger management problem, and if he's not careful, he's going to go the same way as Roy Keane. A fantastic player who couldn't stop his competitive streak boiling over - and who ruined his career as a result.

The other similarity, of course, is that Ferguson is prepared to defend Rooney to the hilt, as indulging his ego is vital to the well-being of the team. A sulking van Nistelrooy can be dispatched to Madrid; a sulking Rooney would rip the heartbeat from the Red Devils. But it's about time Ferguson told Rooney to stop being an impetuous brat, and to stand up and take some responsibility for his actions. For someone who has allegedly asked Steve McClaren to make him England captain, Rooney is an extraordinarily selfish player.

His sending off in the Amsterdam tournament, just like his dismissal against Portugal, was a thoroughly deserved card caused by needless, reckless violence. He knows full well he stamped on Carvalho's testicles; that's why he didn't make an apology (it would have been very easy for him to say "I didn't mean to make contact, but if the video shows I have, then I'm sorry"). Likewise on Friday - his arm was so far away from his body, it took some effort to connect with his opponent. If he has a reputation, it is deserved - he is a hothead who will lash out unnecessarily at any perceived injustice.

Yet while the apologists, both in fandom and in the media, continue to herald him and overlook his glaring faults, he will never have the impact that he should. There's a time when you have to grow up and shoulder the responsibility that your talent demands. While Rooney is allowed to consider himself a victim whenever things don't go according to plan, we stand to see another fantastic talent wasted.