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With a few short weeks to go before a World Cup, we have now entered Rooney Time.
Why is Wayne Rooney such a focus of attention? Apparently, the press are all in Portugal to watch him train and take photos of him and his kids and generally document life on Planet Wayne. Every single one of them will be hoping to get a shot of Our Potato smoking a fag, drinking a beer or having his strange mole hair coiffured.
Meanwhile, no-one has a long lens focused on Jimmy Milner as he goes about eating Shredded Wheat and staring blankly into the middle distance. Indeed, he probably couldn't pay the press enough to do so.
It's All About Wayne.
But why? Who drives this demand for Wayne? What is so interesting about him? I'm sure he doesn't know either. Is there really a demand to find out what Wayne is up to? Really? Who amongst us is demanding to know to such a degree that a large swathe of press decamps to Portugal to, well, look at him? None of us are.
I'm not being overly precious or wilfully elitist about this but frankly, Wayne has never done anything interesting off the pitch, beyond an alleged, occasional if unremarkable sexual dalliance? This isn't a criticism of him. He seems plain, ordinary working-class stock. You might feel there's a nobility in that, and the kid has come a long way, but he's not going to offer you anything beyond eating, drinking and bodily functions. As far as I can tell he never does anything interesting, never says anything interesting, never wears anything interesting, never reads anything interesting. He's just not interesting off the pitch and frequently not that interesting on it either.
Yet there is a constant planet of media orbiting around him like he's the sun. In this era of huge, fast media churn, things which are not news at all, such as the wearing of shoes, the eating of food or simply walking down the street wearing trousers, are all breathlessly reported by many newspapers as though it is news when it is people of some degree of fame doing the walking, talking, breathing and wearing trousers. I guess the logic of this means that Wayne merely existing is news. In an infinite perfect circle of logic, he's in the papers because he's in the papers.
On the pitch, there is equally a huge over-focus on him. You might think this would mean there is a lot of over-detailed critique of him too but no, far from it. Repeatedly, commentators and pundits over-praise Rooney's contributions in the face of the evidence. Even when he goes through one of his can't-trap-a-bag-of-cement phases - which is far too often - he is praised for work-rate and generally running around. He runs around very well does Wayne. Like a fat lad chasing a seagull that has stolen his chips, he can go pink in the face with the best of them. Bad spells are erased from history, simple things done simply become acts of great art, things done well are jaw-dropping genius.
Over the last 12 years I've written many pieces about him as a footballer, all of which can be condensed down into four words - 'Sometimes great, mostly not'.
Yet all things Wayne are routinely made to seem more brilliant or important than they are. One act of excellence goes a long way with Wayne. I'd like his best form and fitness to coincide with a tournament but do not expect it to; I'm far more interested in the performance of some of the newer additions to the squad. Wayne is old news and frankly, a bit dull.
Wayne himself gets understandably grumpy about his every move appearing in the papers. You might think this is all part of the gig for him and he should just suck it down and get on counting his money. Maybe it is. That doesn't interest me, what does interest me is, who wants to know he is playing mini-golf with his son? I mean, who? That is not in any way, in the slightest bit interesting. It is so far from interesting that the light from interesting would never reach it.
If this is worthy of reporting, anything is worthy of reporting, and I guess that's the point really. Once you set parameters this wide, you can fill your pages with anything, no matter how banal. And that is the irony of these snippets of gossip - they just go to prove how monumentally dull Wayne's life is, how unworthy of our interest his daily existence is.
We could pass this off as all part of the celebrity fluff that seems to hypnotise some people, except for the fact that an upset Wayne, an angry Wayne, a self-conscious, chippy Wayne, is a rubbish Wayne. Past performances clearly show he feels terrible pressure and a large degree of personal responsibility for his club and his country's performance, possibly precisely because he is aware that he is over-vaunted. Indeed, sometimes it seems like he doesn't deal with pressure well at all, sometimes charging around trying to Do Something. Put it this way, all this off-pitch attention won't help him play better for England, so it is enormously frustrating and annoying for the rest of us whose interest in Rooney, such as it is, is confined to the football pitch.
Obviously, that is of no concern to the newspapers, but then we shouldn't shoot the messenger. As ever, it is the consumers of the daily Wayne-a-rama who we have to blame for this. If every time he was in the papers the circulation fell and website traffic dropped, I guess they'd get the hint.
The trouble is, neither I nor, I would wager, you, know anyone who wants to know anything about Wayne playing mini-golf or whatever. We don't know anyone to persuade not to indulge in Wayne-ing. Does anyone? Do they exist at all? Or have the media made up interest in him in order to give themselves something to do? Who is really drinking at the fountains of Wayne?