The disquieting rage of Rooney

ROHIT BRIJNATH

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney argues with referee Rob Styles during the English Premiership match against Liverpool. Wayne Rooney is doing himself no good, and that is one thing, what is worse he is doing his teams no good either, says the author.-

WAYNE ROONEY, it is written, once swore at a referee a 100 times in a match. That's more than once a minute of a regulation soccer match, suggesting either a wide vocabulary or astonishing verbal stamina. Or perhaps he did it all at once, a sort of footballer's four-letter sermon, a soliloquy of swearing. In between, we presume he played some football. Some of it delectable, no doubt.

Wayne Rooney is a collector. Of goals, moments, praise and cards of various hues. His anger is extraordinary in its ability to slip any leash, any match, any time, his temper lurks darkly like his skill. In 2002-03 he earned eight yellow cards and a red, in 2003-04 13 yellows and admirably not a red, in 2004-05 a mere eight yellows. This season his form has been resurgent and in 10 games he has two yellows and a red. Soon he will have his own deck to show off.

Wayne Rooney has very smart feet but much further south the same can't be said of him. Against Northern Ireland recently when his captain David Beckham pulled him away from a referee his reply was not printable in a family magazine. When Beckham at half-time rebuked him for his behaviour, this time Rooney told the captain to "Get stuffed". Recently he was sent off for applauding a referee who booked him. It would not be risky at this point to say Rooney has a minor problem with authority figures.

Wayne Rooney, in the old days, would be given a cuff on the head and a dressing down, but that won't do in these modern times. Everyone is an expert or wants to send him to one. Some say he should be sent to anger management classes, some to lifestyle counselling. Exorcism is a tabloid suggestion away. Some say he arrives from a dysfunctional family. Paul Gascoigne just says give him a cuddle.

Wayne Rooney on the one hand is just young, gifted and prone to tantrums. It should not be condoned, but it is hardly front page news every day. When he was young Bjorn Borg threw his racket, so did Stefan Edberg, and even Saint Roger. Then they grew up. Then again John McEnroe never did. Rooney is 19, he can't get worse surely. Perhaps that deserves a question mark.

Wayne Rooney suffers a pressure not to be lightly shrugged off. England lives for soccer but can't play it very well. More dextrous ball players are to be found in Rio beaches than across the breadth of the nation that invented the game. Not for nothing are just four of 26 Arsenal players English. Then along comes Rooney. Hope in boots, saviour with a jutting jaw, salvation from mediocrity. No one is ready for this. No one. Some just manage it well. Pele did. Maradona did not.

Wayne Rooney is a stocky bottle of rage with a loose stopper. Where it comes from no one knows, and he appears likely to shoulder charge a psychologist who dares to find out. But all top sportsmen own this fury, in different measure and exhibited in contrasting ways. Magic Johnson would demean team-mates who wouldn't try hard enough; Lleyton Hewitt lives it every point; Roy Keane's is etched on his face; Glenn McGrath's was evident in his pleas to captains to let him bowl one more over; Schumacher's is apparent in his over-taking manoeuvres.

Wayne Rooney wants to excel, wants to win, and like McEnroe, perhaps he feels officials are interrupting him, disallowing his expression, and feels a powerful sense of injustice. A sort of me against the world, which is a deception great athletes can be masterful at. Passion after all can never be an excuse for petulance.

Wayne Rooney is a quivering, pulsating dynamo of a player, and it's no coincidence that England coach Sven Goran-Eriksson and England defender Rio Ferdinand used the same words about him. They said he played on the edge. Of brilliance and insanity? As if to find himself he needs to be fuelled by something, like nitroglycerine perhaps?

Wayne Rooney will find some indulgence because he is talented, but only that much. Temperamental superstar has become a clich� and rebellion eventually become tiresome and ultimately this fire we like to see in players is best exhibited with feet not mouth. The pressure notwithstanding, players like him are paid 70,000 pounds a week to kick a ball around and are not quite saving lives.

Wayne Rooney is doing himself no good, and that is one thing, what is worse he is doing his teams no good either. When managers, as happened once with Eriksson, take him off because he is about to explode, then he is doing England's cause a disservice. Being thrown off recently against Villarreal immediately limited United's efforts. Quite simply, he is not being paid or celebrated to be substituted.

Wayne Rooney's agent will have his say with the player, so will his manager, perhaps his family, but the decision to embrace maturity, or to seek help, is finally his. Eventually rage must be channelled, desire must be creatively directed, ambition must be focused on what matters. No self-help book is required to inform him that an enraged player is only interrupting his own concentration.

Wayne Rooney has a talent for football and a gift for annoying referees and one is getting in the way of the other. But redemption is never too far away. After all, every time we see an athlete accused of wasting his talent, of confusing his priorities, we are hopeful there is an Agassi lurking in him somewhere.