Remember that early curler for Everton, against Arsenal? Remember thinking this kid looked like he’d been on a steak diet for too long, such was his power, his doe-eyed but belligerent chunkiness? Remember that hat-trick on Champion’s League debut? Remember sendings off and tortured bellows into innocently by-standing cameras. Remember the protection he had; so that we hardly heard him speak his name. Remember in weird, slightly garish slabs.
Rooney. The boy wunda, the cocksure virgin, the prodigious-explosive talent gone far too big for his hoodie. Him.
Him with the obscene wage/mansion/lifestyle/twitter following. Him in that dreamscape, that boob-job of a life where the appalling accoutrements of footballing princedom engorge the Scally mortal within. Such that when we do glimpse that doe-eyed boy – less though, now, I admit – we might wish to offer a consoling paternal hug. On the grounds that dumb ecstatic idolatry does not, apparently, fulfil. (Aah, life’s shallow riches.)
Hey but let’s not be duped into flopping so, between sympathy and the red devil. Wayne’s world does have the occasional dollop of normalcy – of proportion even. Sometimes I’m sure he does make his own breakfast – something hopelessly Choco-popsy, I fancy? Sometimes he gets out the hoover. (Yeh right.) Sometimes he dawdles round in his checked jimjams wondering what to do with his Sunday. But okay… mainly it’s that ole treadmill of fantastic luxury. Ordered days, ordered lawns; situations/environments/people groomed towards Wayne-friendly suitability. For running round in his shorts twice a week. Meaning it’s just not possible to stay normal.
Wayne has dealt with this. Sometimes by inspired channelling of all available energies into sporting brilliance, despite the absurdities of distraction; others – in the early days? – by not knowing. Not knowing hardly anything it seemed – Rooney being something of a byword or more-or-less impervious touchstone for shell-suited naivety. His widely perceived lack of thought about x, p, a may, of course, be an essential part of the armoury on the pitch; his rawness, his intuition being central to the Rooney dynamism. It has served him less well elsewhere.
But in fairness I think it likely that Wayne has been stitched up plenty (too). Maybe that unseemly business with a super-annuated lady of the night falls into that category – not that I remotely condone his alleged unfaithfulness to Colleen. Maybe with some of the jostling around contractual matters at MU – which did not resonate with me as Rooneyswerves and bobs so much as intrigues from a more cunning mind. Like an agent’s, perhaps? My heart still says that chavistas extraordinaires though they may be as a couple, Wayne at least remains a comparative innocent. Who prob’ly needs ‘is mam.
Rooney moments are bound to arrive when you are The One. When Ingerland knows that only you – only you since you were 17 – could or might carry the whites to some overdue triumph for the Home of Football. (And let’s pause here to focus the you-tube in our minds towards the actual playing thing, here). When clear of the red mist of controversy, in an England shirt, fit and fearless, Rooney was nothing short of magnificent. He was almost embarrassingly easily Man-boy of the Match for what seemed like aeons; every time he crossed that line he unleashed himself with a remarkable freedom and consistency. He carried the team; he was what – 19? The record became flawed with the spillage of extra-footie concerns; public ridicule, family ridicule – corrosive media crap. A consensus developed amongst columnists and fans that Wayne’s head was in the wrong place. Justifiably.
The story’s gotten more turgid than we would have liked, these last two years. Intermittent form; issues with weight and fitness. Maybe less of that boyish good humour – that bounce. Neither movement nor demeanour seeming electrifyingly free as it once was… when we were all younger… and less compromised. But – on the plus side! – are we just all growing up? It seems Wayne is.
Friday’s drama – San Marino, yer man velcroed up with the skipper’s armband – evidenced minor gathering of the maturing non-phenomenon. Rooney dully accomplished in the verbals beforehand, just like a proper captain; this not a criticism, more a reflection of my own disillusionment with those festivals of blandness, the press conference(s). With Wayne now speaking with some confidence – and well within those crushing limits. On the pitch influential rather than masterful; penalty despatched. The captaincy temporary, we imagine, until he outlasts Gerard, or Hodgson sees more clearly the evolution of the flawed boy saviour towards untouchable maestro.
This is surely the current fascination; the one about whether Rooney turns in to Paul Scholes Plus – and therefore combines quarter back levels of control with occasional hand grenades behind enemy lines – or does he remain essentially that False 9/inside forward combo. The fact is he could do either; or probably both; as well as cover every other outfield position on the park with some distinction. But what does Sir Alex want… and what does England need?
There is every chance that Rooney will withdraw in proportion to that cruel but natural diminution in pace and alongside his gathering maturity. United probably don’t need or expect him to flash into the six yard box as much as he did 2 years ago. Some Dutch bloke will cover that. SAF being wholly conversant with the flow of an individual career in the wider ocean that is Manchester United FC, these things have been thought about and boats floated. And hopefully Wayne consulted. Likewise with England. Rooney remains (probably?) the finest player either outfit can call upon, the player most fans call upon to DO SOMETHING when inertia strikes. But is there a single role awaiting?
In all honesty we can’t know. Many of us I think could see that familiar frame flitting a tad more sideways – or less lung-burstingly forward – within some deeper, creative midfielder slot. Establishing the rhythm of the thing. Holding and waiting and engineering; rather than going past, necessarily.
Would this reduce him as a threat to the opposition? In terms of goals scored, quite possibly. But the glaring deficiency of the national side points towards Rooney the creator. He simply has that capacity to invent. Over and above the extraordinary firepower there is a genius for finding stuff; not through extravagant Ronaldoesque tricksiness but through 20-20 football vision. Through that delicious, natural control. And yes – that particular power.
Upon this pivot may the fortunes of both club and country turn. Tonight, in Poland, let’s see.
*(Unusually) a post-Poland post-script.
There is another possibility; Rooney may fall into mid-career(?) decline. This horror scenario rears brutally uninvited into my mind following a decidedly shoddy performance from the England ‘pivot’, who brought back memories of his South African slump with an extraodinarily clumsy showing in Warsaw this afternoon. Please god let this be an abberation, not a sign. England needs.