Football/Soccer

Kenny Archer: Wayne Rooney is weighed down by the greatest of expectations

Wayne Rooney has once again been in the crosshairs of the English media due to a night out 

‘ENGLAND DUTY’ may seem like just a turn of phrase, but too many of those who follow and comment on that particular national team do almost act as if they and the players are going to war.

The words ringing in their heads are those of the signal sent by vice-admiral Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar: "England expects that every man will do his duty."

That saying permeates English culture to the extent that only the first two words need to be aired, as in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, when the Bellman, in a rousing speech to his crew, declares: "For England Expects - I forbear to proceed. Tis a maxim tremendous, but trite."

The past few days have seemed more like The Hunting of the Shrek. Disappointment at failing to see off the dastardly Spanish this time around probably played a part in the vilification in certain quarters of England captain Wayne Rooney.

His crime was to join a wedding party in the weekend between the World Cup qualifier win over Scotland and the friendly draw with Spain. As usual in modern ‘debate’, this discussion has largely swung between two extremes - either ‘Hang ’im!’ or ‘Leave ’im alone!’

The sensible reaction surely lies somewhere in between. Rooney didn’t do much wrong - although Coleen surely wouldn’t have been too happy about allegations he was overly friendly with someone else’s wife - but nor was his the wisest course of action.

In terms of England, it didn’t really matter that much, given that Rooney wasn’t expected to start in what was, remember, a blooming friendly. Indeed, his actions perhaps merit some praise given that, rather than acting like a pampered prima donna, which is the public perception of most modern footballers, he showed himself to be a down-to-earth, normal bloke at heart.

Although he’s an Evertonian who now (sometimes) plays for Manchester United, I’ve always quite liked Wayne Rooney. He is very reminiscent of English football’s last great footballing man-child Paul Gascoigne. Like Gazza, he is a flawed character but, on the pitch, is capable of being an exciting force of nature.

There are a hell of a lot of hypocrites among those who condemned Rooney for getting drunk, some of them in the media. Yet, if there was an overreaction in criticism, equally Rooney went too far in labelling his treatment "disgraceful". What does he expect when ‘England expects’?

One can have sympathy for Rooney and his family on a personal level due to some of the vitriol thrown at him. However, the harsh reality is he has a price to pay in return for receiving fame and fortune and when the public effectively hands over hundreds of thousands of pounds per week - via ticket sales, TV subscription packages and merchandising - then their sympathy can be in short supply.

Former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier clamped down on the nights out of a young Jamie Carragher, telling him that, if he stayed away from nightclubs during his playing career, then he’d be able to own those establishments afterwards.

It was sound advice, but it’s also hard for young men - and Rooney only turned 31 last month - to sacrifice their social life entirely. They have to though, for several reasons.

People of a certain vintage may recount tales of the boozing sessions indulged in by the great Liverpool teams of the 1970s and ’80s, or allude to the drinking escapades of Manchester United stars of the ’80s, such as Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath, and Norman Whiteside.

Times have changed, though, and changed considerably. Players’ vastly increased salaries have extended the slight divide between them and supporters into an almost unbridgeable chasm.

Besides, even 30 years ago Alex Ferguson quickly moved to root out that drinking culture at Old Trafford and most of the culprits. Notably  though, Fergie did retain the services of Robson - because he was a phenomenal player and leader as well as a notorious booze-hound.

In sport as in life, how bad you can get away with being depends largely on how good you are at the game. Rooney’s problem is he isn’t performing at a high level any more and hasn’t been for several seasons.

Part of his problem is the same as former England boss Graham Taylor alluded to euphemistically on Gazza - his ‘refuelling’ habits. The media grapevine has long rustled with word of Rooney’s smoking and drinking habits, which simply aren’t in keeping with an extremely highly-paid professional athlete.

The only supporters who should be really annoyed are those of Manchester United, given their club is paying Rooney £300k per week and, yet, he’s still not playing well enough to start in a side that’s struggling to break back into the top-four, never mind win the title.

Players have to police themselves or else take the punishment, by being dropped and/or criticised. Managers no longer need to have their ‘spies’ in bars and clubs - as Ferguson, among others, apparently did. Unlike the elusive Snark, Rooney is instantly recognisable.

Besides, players can’t even escape scrutiny in their own homes. They don’t have to come to training smelling like a brewer’s apron - if they’ve drank too much and/or guzzled a few pizzas or kebabs, that’ll be fairly obvious to club dieticians.

We Irish are still overly indulgent about over-indulgence in alcohol, but it’s ludicrous to think you can do so without harming your chances of success at the highest level of sport.

Until that mindset changes completely, English football will still not succeed. Dickens knew that, writing in Martin Chuzzlewit: "..as the poet informs us, England expects Every man to do his duty, England is the most sanguine country on the face of the earth, and will find itself continually disappointed."

 

Kenny Archer enjoys a laugh with the late Joe Jordan (centre right) 

FORMER Scottish footballer Joe Jordan may be famed for his lack of teeth, but I’ll remember his namesake, the former Armagh GAA chairman, for so often showing his teeth - in the best possible way.

Middletown’s Joe Jordan, who sadly passed away last weekend, usually had a smile on his face. My first dealings with him were when he was Orchard county PRO, but whatever title he held, Joe was always the same Joe, friendly and helpful.

I enjoyed several nights in the company of him and his wife Sadie at Ulster Allstars events - my deepest sympathy to her and Joe’s family and friends.

 

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Football/Soccer