Rooney and Gazza

Wayne Rooney (centre), forced to sit in the stands due to a knee injury, right after renewing his contract with Manchester United.-AP Wayne Rooney (centre), forced to sit in the stands due to a knee injury, right after renewing his contract with Manchester United.

The salient question over Rooney must surely be, when, if ever, shall we see the real Rooney again? In South Africa where so much was expected from him he had a dreadful tournament, writes Brian Glanville.

Bitter and ironic contrast indeed. Almost on the very day Wayne Rooney acquired his massive GBP200,000 a week contract with Manchester United, Paul Gascoigne was charged with possessing drugs. Just days after the hapless, hopeless Gazza had been convicted of drink driving, being four times over the limit and told he would probably be sent to prison. While in the meantime, a previous drink driving charge hung over him.

Rooney and Gazza are arguably the two most gifted English players to emerge in the past 30 years and more. Indeed the only British player in that time to touch and even to surpass them was Manchester United's predecessor to Rooney, George Best, refulgent star of Northern Ireland who alas like Gazza came to an unhappy, alcoholic, end. And unlike Rooney who cost United a substantial sum when he joined them as a teenager from Everton, Best at a still younger age was found and signed by Manchester United.

Rooney's standoff and eventual, sudden and surprising reconciliation with Manchester United has been a somewhat squalid affair. Alex Ferguson, the outraged and long lasting manager of Manchester United, clearly puts the blame on Rooney's agent Paul Stretford and may well be right. Some of the statements which emerged from Rooney during the standoff seemed to have been crafted by hidden hands.

Not least his insistence that a major reason for leaving United was because after the departure for ten million pounds of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and Carlos Tevez to nearby Manchester City, United had failed to strengthen their squad. He may have had a case but it scarcely survived his decision to sign an extended deal with them.

But the salient question over Rooney must surely be, when, if ever, shall we see the real Rooney again? In South Africa where so much was expected from him he had a dreadful tournament with the England team. Far from being the inspiration that was expected of him in the four games that he and England played he was if anything a liability.

Compare and contrast with Gascoigne who, whatever his predicament now, had a superb World Cup in Italy in 1990, even if it literally ended in tears. Gazza having wept when England met Germany in the semifinals in Turin and his booking meant he knew he would not be able to play in the final. As it transpired, England didn't reach it anyway.

By contrast, Rooney, dazzling though he was in the European finals of 2004 when the Portuguese eventually kicked him out of the game, failed in his first, 2006, World Cup, too, in Germany. There, admittedly, he was still carrying an injury and hardly relished being used up front by Sven-Goran Eriksson on his own, but to be sent off for kicking Ricardo Carvalho of Portugal in the quarterfinal game was hardly a dignified farewell.

Rooney has had a stormy passage since the last World Cup, being luridly reported as frequenting prostitutes while his wife Coleen was pregnant, which brought the somewhat comical outburst from her father to the effect that he never wanted to see Rooney in his house again. His house? But it was Rooney who bought it for him! However all now seems serene. His wife has forgiven him: just as she did some years ago when it emerged that as a teenager he had been going to a local middle aged prostitute nicknamed “Auld Slapper.”

For all the millions which have been spent on building a huge, monstrosity of a house, and the colossal sums spent on jewellery, holidays after the agreement with Manchester United, (the Rooneys went off for a holiday in Dubai, while planning a party for a hundred people on their return) Rooney is hardly the epitome of gracious living. Indeed, shortly after his return from South Africa, he was found to be urinating in the street.

Having refused to extend his previous contract with United, which in fact had another 18 months to run, he found himself boxed in. The obvious move would ideally have been to neighbours Manchester City who of course have Middle-Eastern money to burn and indeed have been burning it at a galloping rate. But that transfer might well have put Rooney's life in danger, such is the animosity between the fans. As exemplified when, shortly before agreement with United was reached, a bunch of hooded thugs laid siege to Rooney's house and had to be dispersed by the police.

This left only Chelsea with the riches — though less than Manchester City's — of the oligarch Roman Abramovich. It was rumoured that Rooney himself was keen to go to Real Madrid where his ex-team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo was keen to see him, but that Mrs. Rooney didn't want to go abroad.

So, Rooney stays at Old Trafford having implicitly derided his team-mates by asserting that the squad wasn't strong enough. Especially to the ire of left back Patrice Evra who himself had badly blotted his copybook in South Africa when leading a mutiny of the rebellious French international team.

One imagines the proof of the pudding will be in the eating: if Rooney returns to form and the team regains it, then all will be sweetness and light.

But Rooney is a far more balanced character than the poor Gazza, who has twice been sectioned under the mental health acts and at least once has tried to kill himself by drowning in a bath. He seems to have been abandoned even by his constant companion and bodyguard, nicknamed “five bellies” and his turbulent marriage has finally fallen apart, though his wife had initially stayed with him, even though he beat her up badly.

Rooney plainly had the solid family life which Gazza manifestly lacked.

At Newcastle United, his local club, he showed precocious brilliance, he excelled at Tottenham and delighted the turbulent Roman fans at Lazio, who rejoiced even in his occasional excesses. He was capable of going into central Rome with his wife and spending GBP30,000 on clothes, most of which were soon stolen from their home in a burglary. Now the money has long gone and one can but fear for his future.