I’ll level with you. Dumbly pondering my next missive, quill caught expertly between the furrows of my brow as the everlasting gale flings assorted twigs, small birds and occasional tourists against the windows, the last thing I wanted to do was add to the absurdly humungous pile of speculative cobblers about Rooney. On the one slightly spiteful hand it feels like the boy barely deserves it – him being arguably the clunky epitome of the (crass?) ‘top Premiership player’ – and on the other, frankly, his slightly porky-sulky moodiness becomes a significant turnoff.
But how often do talents turn out this way? Initially magnificent in their raw state, soon to be either worn down or spoiled by pressure/age/duff life-choices/questionable commitment. How often do we as fans, find ourselves disappointed by their easing out of love with the game? Personally I have near run out of patience with player’s inability to appreciate what they got. So I’ll write, in the abstract, I suppose, about that.
And no, I can’t pretend to write from some passionless state of authority; I’m on a rumble and a hunch here, feeling something between concern about Rooney’s trajectory and near-bitter disappointment with how things turn out when big money, monumental exposure and lowish intelligence coincide. Unlike the tabloids, I have no new facts to offer. I merely fear that this quite recently brilliant and natural talent is in real danger of a premature fade.
The Rooney of his last Premiership outing – the humiliating defeat at Newcastle – had more in common with his desperate World Cup self than with the young buck who for two years plus (from the moment of his international debut) carried England with his fearless, intuitive brilliance. That young innocent played with a revelatory sureness and confidence; he had everything – superb touch and vision, pace and aggression, that gift of knowing without thinking. In contrast, the Geordies were left mocking a man seemingly (and I hope not to offend by this…) depressed by the kind of theatre and challenge once embraced with a fearsome, wholehearted verve.
Often lately, Rooney has looked this way to me; either sluggish, or unfit, or under-motivated. As if he no longer really wants to play. Or maybe things turn that way, if the touch isn’t there, or colleagues maybe aren’t, in his view, up to it in the way United players – Champions League players – ought to be. Perhaps I exaggerate; perhaps it’s not fair or right to criticise his body language so when the side itself is plainly vulnerable and lacks cohesion. Clearly struggling is as infectious as scoring and it may therefore be unreasonable to expect anyone to remain immune; but such is the apparent depth and even emotional weight of Rooney’s difficulties (intermittent as they are) that many of us feel for him, I think.
Whilst I don’t expect too many heads to be nodding in Liverpool when I speak of some minor sadness at the sight of the former Toffeeman’s plight, I stand by that particular emotion. Given what Rooney has shown us – that extraordinary spirited expression of his toggergift – a slide towards the everyday, the workmanlike, the ordinary would be a matter of regret for all who appreciate the game.
We might go on endlessly about the whys. The cogs now grinding rather than purring so slickly and easily. The ease itself turning to unease. For this young man there are so many possible causes for distraction or worse that any cod-psychologist could rapidly formulate a viable hypothesis. Too much pressure/too much indulgence/dodgy family/delusional fame-obsessed wife/prozzie guilt. Common pubtalk.
I hasten to add that I propose none of these – or certainly none of these individually, or even chiefly. (And I make this point not just for legal reasons) but because actually it strikes me that without hugely patronising the young man, Rooney is not designed to cope with anything very much other than being – when fit and happy – a magnificent and natural footballer.
So wipe the slate clean again – every word. Let’s all retreat to some quietly pre-glorious, unselfconscious day. Let’s speak again of Rooney but more simply; don’t ask him to be a diplomat/orator/pundit/policeman/politician or nuclear physicist. Give him a ball… and a pitch. Then, without too many distractions, he might make sense of this ludicrous world – his and ours.