A few months ago, I wrote about the heroic potential that awaited a pre-World Cup Wayne Rooney: the sporting globe was his to conquer, and his outstanding form seemed every inch prepared to deliver. Fortunes rise and fall speedily in the realm of football, but this is tragedy at terminal velocity: fast-forward a dismal summer, and the striker’s star has utterly imploded, both on and off the pitch. Remember that Nike advert, the one we all hoped presciently prophetic, with Rooney adulated and knighted? Well, it was spot on. Pity, though, because it is the satanic, post-apocalyptic and fiery version of the future that has careered and melded so seamlessly into the player’s nightmarish present.
Truth is, Rooney’s stunning decision to quit United is even more astonishing than his decision to patronize that Bolton call-girl. Like it or not, the modern footballer is an amoral animal, often revelling more in his playboy vices than in his playing victories: we fans can stomach a scandal or two, so long as the goals and wins keep coming, of course. Look at Terry and Cole and Gerrard, as leading examples, among countless other cases of unscrupulous, uncivil behaviour. Rooney, though, seems to have emerged from his embarrassing, self-created crisis by lashing out in the most illogical, counterintuitive manner: he’s bitten off the hand that feeds him, and he’s swallowed it down whole.
His temerity to cross the Old Trafford Godfather is as nonsensical as it is idiotic: Ferguson has never tolerated insubordination or misconduct, but even he is willing to grant absolution to Rooney’s enormous talent. We do not yet know for sure why exactly the player wants to leave: for one thing, a heinous hop across town to City hardly alleviates the problem of media intrusion, does it? And Chelsea is a no-go, with Rooney allegedly (and peculiarly provincially) suggesting that ‘the London lifestyle’, whatever this means, is not for him. Forget the Spanish clubs, too, which all require new recruits to learn their language: you can barely imagine philologists running for their textbooks (and earmuffs, probably) at the sound of some Scouse-Catalan pidgin, can you?
Ferguson’s powerful rhetoric has now placed the ball firmly in Rooney’s penalty area: does he evince himself the shallow, callous, greedy and vapid character that he has, often unfairly, been intimated to be? Or can he restore a shred of dignity, and re-rail his life and career: there can surely be no better club, or manager, to provide the pastoral guidance that Rooney so badly needs. The coming months are a pivotal fulcrum of his history as a professional footballer- the wrong choice now will cripple him forever, and I fear that a United exit, evermore likely, will represent a moment of harrowing remorse when all the dust eventually settles.
Rooney’s fatal flaws have never been so prevalent: he is immature, unthinking, and has far too much money for a man of his age. But tragedy might yet be averted: to remain at Old Trafford could rescue Rooney from the brink of personal and professional meltdown, because you gravely sense that his erratic soul is teetering on the precipice of some very dark places. For the sake of football fans everywhere, we should hope that the fragmented jigsaw of his inestimable ability has not been dissembled beyond repair.
United offers a sanctuary that Rooney simply cannot afford to depart: only as a Red Devil can he chase away all those demons.