I don't know if you noticed, but as Manchester United lined-up against Real Madrid last week, Wayne Rooney didn't. He sat down. On the bench. Wearing a fluorescent bib and a carefully neutral expression. And as he parked his buttocks on the cold bench - alright, heated and sponsored car-seat. But I bet it felt cold - a million transfer stories bloomed.
He's going here! He's staying after all! No, he's going there! Hang on, he's staying, because he has nowhere to go! And so on and so forth. We've had denials from Alex Ferguson (worthless) and Bobby Charlton (interesting but probably irrelevant) and we've had acres and acres of next-day chip-paper, virtual and otherwise. Not that virtual next-day chip-paper is a thing. You can't wrap a fish supper in a laptop and you shouldn't try; you'll knacker both sets of chips, potato and silicon. Profile 365, helping you survive the difficult transition to the digital age. Where were we? Ah, yes. Rooney.
Various outlets of varying trustworthiness have reported a variety of variations on the same theme of certain uncertainty: something might happen, we don't know what, and it might look a lot like nothing if and when it does. And such is life. More interesting, though, is a general thread of Rooney-thought that precedes this latest SNUB, or whatever, and has been bubbling along for a few years now. It concerns two different Rooneys, the Rooney-that-is, and the Rooney-that-was-meant-to-be.
As you may recall, Rooney's emergence into the collective consciousness was as explosive as a north-eastern spice festival the crossbar-bothering defenestration of Arsenal, the terrorisation of Euro 2004; the debut against Fenerbahçe. It has since become almost commonplace to observe, with a certain amount of quizzical sadness, that the stocking of his trophy cabinet has come at the cost of that brio. That his capacity to smack both football and gob has ebbed away, to be replaced by a more rounded, more grounded, more useful game, that just happens to be much less fun to watch.
This is, of course, entirely understandable. Being denied fun is a miserable business, particularly in a sport that with each passing day grows closer to its inevitable end-state as an endless, rolling advert for Gazprom. And perhaps this was the natural consequence of the fact that Rooney, like everybody else trapped on this watery spaceship, had to grow up. At least a bit. Even footballers have to eventually; even Leo Messi moved into the middle and got himself a sensible haircut. Nobody stays a child forever. Rooney would make a magnificently unlikely Peter Pan.
Or, more interestingly, perhaps somebody at some point made a choice. Perhaps Rooney - doubtless under the advice of Ferguson and other notable and influential figures - made a series of tweaks and adjustments to his game. Dial down the haring around like a lunatic, and the head-down charges, and the hammered shots from thirty-odd yards. Ramp up the positional discipline and the range of passing. Learn to mark, and play in midfield occasionally. Carry on the shouting at referees, obviously, everybody loves that. Shows passion. Do a job on the flanks. Do some adverts. Write some books.
That would make the sadness at the Rooney-that-is less to do with the relentless and all-destroying march of time - which, like the ticking crocodile, is chasing after us all - and more to do with a sense of having been robbed of something. A sense that that we were deprived the sight of Rooney-that-was-meant-to-be thundering his way through the game, leaving a trail of broken opponents and terrified officials stunned and bloodied in his wake.
Obviously, the above two possibilities are as exaggerated as they are incomplete. But it's interesting that there is this regret. First, it suggests that (some, though obviously not all) people have, or had, some kind of general investment in Rooney-that-was-meant-to-be. That, most likely, has something to do with England and the perpetual search for The One who will deliver the country from the purgatory of the quarter-finals. There are echoes of this in the way (some, though obviously not all) non-Arsenal fans talk about Jack Wilshere, next in line for hype's hope.
Secondly, and more generally, it shows that there is still a desire for footballers to be not just effective but entertaining as well. This is intensely heartening: while football without the need to win would basically just be keepy-uppies, football that's just about winning is depressing. The tension between what works and what thrills is an eternal and likely unreconcilable one, and the interests of players, managers, and owners ensure that it will usually slant towards the former. But as long as there are people willing to look at one of the most successful players of his generation, and rue what he might have become, then perhaps we can console ourselves that the game isn't completely shafted after all.
Such a stupid premise that his career has been a disappointment. 4 league championships, 3 league cups and a champions league winners medal. Yeah, that's awfully disappointing.- seeka1