When Wayne Rooney announced his international retirement last week most of us thought it was a very sensible decision – not least because it might stop the whole Rooney debate once and for all. But no. It was about Wayne, so inevitably it immediately became A Big Thing.
It’s always been like this. All things Rooney seem to push some to extremes.
Gary Lineker said we should appreciate him more and those who denounced the Everton man’s international career were “buffoons”. Rio Ferdinand went further to say it is “disgraceful” the way Wayne has been underappreciated in recent years. “I couldn’t understand why people were disrespecting him so much,” said Andy Cole on MOTD2.
Buffoons? Disgraceful? Disrespect? This is odd language to use. Only Rooney seems to provoke such extreme responses from the media.
Once we discount the usual football stupids, who haven’t got a nice word to say about anyone, and also exclude the ignorant tribal nonsense and other unthinking knee-jerkery, I think most fans have always had a very reasonable and balanced view of Wayne: a well-liked player who has been capable of occasional tens, quite a few eights and nines, and a lot of fours and fives. I just wish the majority of pundits and press were as sensible because that realistic viewpoint is the one they seem to be railing against.
Rooney has been, and continues to be, the beneficiary of praise and reward far beyond anyone else who has displayed the alarmingly wild fluctuations of form that have characterized his career. He has largely been insulated from professional criticism to an unprecedented degree. Regardless of the stellar statistics – and they are stellar (even if they don’t tell the whole story) – the fact that the player himself regards Euro 2004 as his international highpoint 13 years ago, tells us much about his international contribution.
While critics of Rooney are often accused of being blinkered, and I wouldn’t always discount that, his media allies most certainly are. The sickly over-vaunting after just two decent games for Everton is but another example. There have always been those who are simply blind to his failings. Even on Sunday, after Everton’s defeat without a shot on goal, Martin Keown was quick to pull out an excuse. “Rooney is being asked to play a lot of games.” Excuses. Excuses. One week’s “fit and lean” when he scores, is the next week’s overworked when he doesn’t. This has been typical over the years. Every purple patch excused every flabby, clunking period; one act of brilliance atoned for hours of lumpen mediocrity.
For years we were constantly told that he needed to play a lot of games to get fit after injury. And because he was slow to get fit, that excused him a run of poor performances, as though he wasn’t complicit in his own fitness levels. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that excuse used for anyone else other than Wayne. And even when undeniably out of form, he was almost uniquely praised for literally just running around a lot.
So any unreasonable criticism, and there absolutely has been some over these long years, is because so much media was so committed to praising or excusing him. This insistence from self-appointed high priests of punditry and press that Wayne was a football superhero, despite what we witnessed for so long with our own eyes, actually made it harder to appreciate him. Fans made an inevitable, if subconscious, psychic rebalancing of unreasonable criticism against all the unreasonable praise.
But actually, looking beyond the diaphanous veil of facts and deeper into the more subconscious roots of all of this, I think something more profound has been going on. There are always controversies surrounding players and how good they are or aren’t; that’s all part of football’s subjective nature. Yet I’ve long thought the bipolar schism over Rooney is not to do with him as a footballer at all. It’s not to do with him as a person, either. In fact, in my experience, most decent people rather like what we see of him when interviewed, and admire what he’s achieved. He’s made the most of what talent he was blessed with and I think all of us can see and appreciate that.
No, this is actually all to do with him as a symbol. A symbol of the unfair, brutal, greed-is-good insane-o-nomics of football, politics and society. It plugs into the culture of CEO’s of failing companies who award themselves huge pay rises while everyone else has their pay frozen. It speaks of bulletproof elites who profit at the expense of everyone else, regardless of their contribution or quality. These are the dark materials of our modern existence. Profound unfairness kneeling on our throat and choking the life out of our future in order to further aggrandise and enrich. We might not always be able to fight it but sure as hell know its going on.
So on a subconscious level it’s inevitable that when we feel there is an agenda to unreasonably promote Rooney by those who have also benefited from this heinous, soulless system, it feels like they’re all part of the same gang. A gang that’s not our gang. They don’t understand our position because they’ve lost touch with reality. Lost touch with what a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay looks like. Lost touch with how we equate money and performance in normal life.
Subconsciously, we see Rooney as emblematic of What Is Wrong.
Rich people telling poor people how great other rich people are is not an easy sell. And you certainly can’t do it by calling us buffoons, you really can’t. Rather, it just confirms our worldview, rightly or wrongly, that you’re out of touch and doing the bidding of an unjustified, oppressive elitist financial and moral philosophy. You might not be, or at least not consciously, but that’s how it sounds and feels and that’s why it is so divisive.
But this is not to decry his very real achievements one iota. They are substantial and noteworthy, yet we have arrived at the weird situation where those real achievements are in the shadow of the astronomic imaginary achievements that his media supporters would have us believe are the reality, and to which they apparently expect us to supplicate ourselves in awe.
It appears we’re being berated for not pouring yet more praise onto a man who has already been over-praised, and whose manifest flaws have been dismissed as though they do not even exist.
While it’s easy for any ex-player or pundit to dismiss the hateful talkin’-loud-saying-nuthin’ blowhard constituency that is football’s curse, I would suggest most of us are all very well aware of exactly how good Rooney is and has been, and do not need lecturing about it from on high.
However, those who have created a fiction around Rooney need to take a long hard look at themselves and ask why they’re so blinded to truths that others see so easily, and why they feel the need to proselytise this misplaced analysis with such an obviously tin ear to our critique and our times.