The Rooney Storm In A Tea Cup
It was a display which fell quite firmly into the category of “Typical England”. What should – and can could easily have been – a comfortable win in Montenegro last Friday night ended with a scrambled draw and a red card for Wayne Rooney, leaving the team’s qualification for the finals from a distinctively mediocre group looking just a little more limp than it might otherwise have done. Mission, some might argue, accomplished, but hardly with the swagger that Fabio Capello might have hoped would blow a fresh breeze of confidence through a squad which remains some distance short of being able to compete with the best in Europe.
Yesterday came the fall-out. UEFA decreed that Rooney’s kick would cost the player a three match ban, meaning that he will miss the entire group stage of the competition next some. The more pessimistic amongst us might even take that to mean that, given England’s ongoing patchiness and the concentration of talent that we tend to find in the groups at the European Championship finals, that Rooney will now quite possibly miss the whole tournament, since it remains perfectly plausible that they might not get through the group stages of the competition. Even those of a sunnier disposition would have to concede that Capello’s job has become that much more difficult for the loss of a player that has, so far this season, been playing some of the best football of his career.
What has become increasingly clear throughout Rooney’s career has been that this distemper is part of the package. Every time it seems as if he has got himself focussed on the quite remarkable natural talent that he still holds in abundance, something like this comes up. It can hardly be argued that the coaches that have mentored him what seems to pass for maturity these days, Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello, aren’t disciplinarians of the stricter variety and it seems implausible that one, other or both of them wouldn’t have tried to rein in his occasional disposition towards kicking or stamping, but Friday’s events have demonstrated that this hasn’t been bred out of the player yet and it seems far from certain that it ever will be.
It has been said that this, with Rooney, is “part of the package”, as if the same part of the player’s brain which controls his feet also controls his temperament. This is, if course, debatable, but it seems unlikely that Rooney would be somehow lobotomised as a footballer if he were to manage to keep his temper under control. Such statements feel like false equivalencies but, since he had reached the middle of his twenties without apparently being able to keep himself in check, it seems unlikely that we will see if there is anything in this theory until he is entering the twilight of his playing career, and it still feels considerably more likely that Manchester United will continue to reap considerably more from him than England ever will.
None of this speculation helps Fabio Capello, of course, and Rooney’s ban has placed the England coach in another sticky spot. Does he select Rooney in his squad for the tournament in the hope or expectation of getting through the group stages, or does he cut his losses and jettison one of the few players at his disposal that is capable of spinning a match on its head in one movement of his body because of the concerns over whether he needs more attacking players to get through the group stages. Any decision will not be taken until after the draw for the finals has been made at the earliest (giving the press at least a few weeks to feverishly debate whether he should go or not), and the pure truth of the matter is that there is no way of deciding whether taking him will be the right decision until it’s too late.
Moreover, no matter what decision Capello makes, the press will turn this into the wrong one unless England win the European Championships next summer – which they won’t. The coach is in the autumnal months of his spell as the manager of a team which is not far short of unmanageable and, although he has made mistakes at times during his spell in charge of the team, his competence or otherwise is, for some sections of the press, support and England’s many and varied detractors, irrelevant. It was not much more than a year ago that England should have been taught a harsh lesson about the reality of their place in the international football fermament by Germany in South Africa. As was widely predicted at the time, however, lessons haven’t be learnt and England qualified from a mediocre group whilst displaying practically nothing in friendly matches against stronger nations to suggest that their prognosis for next summer will be any more positive than it was last summer.
The truth of the matter is that Fabio Capello needs Wayne Rooney more than Wayne Rooney needs Fabio Capello, and that this will likely end with the player being taken to the finals. Whether he will get to set foot on the pitch once there, however, is a different matter altogether and whether he will make a difference in this case is another one again. We can argue long and hard over whether football is more or less of a team game than it was a generation ago, but the recent evidence at the top end of both the international and club games would seem to suggest that one player alone cannot win a competition. As such, the Wayne Rooney circus probably doesn’t matter. We have watched with interest to see if the structural, psychological and tactical issues that have plagued this team can be overcome and the answer has, thus far, been a fairly consistent “no”. It wouldn’t have seemed particularly credible to predict an England win next summer with a fully functioning Rooney in the team from the very start. Without him, they may struggle to get through the group stages – but then, they may have done that anyway. Ironically, considering the player that we are talking about, the debate over whether to take him to Euro 2012 has the feel of being two bald men arguing over a comb.
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