Armchair Pundit

Rooney not England’s biggest concern

Alex Chick

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Since news broke of Wayne Rooney's alleged "sordid romps with a vice girl", sports journalists (including this one) have sought ways to talk about the scandal without appearing to pander to the lowest common denominator.

Plainly, this scandal is about a regulation piece of celebrity love rattery, not sport. But we need an excuse to mention it because it's HUGE. Everyone's talking about it, so why can't we?

We needed to shoehorn a football angle into a sorry tale that ought to be between a man, his wife and a £1,200-a-night prostitute. The thought process was as transparent as it was cynical.

So some bright spark came up with the entirely fictional notion that Rooney might not play in the Euro 2012 against Switzerland because, you know, his "head's not right".

Almost immediately, the FA issued a statement confirming Rooney would travel to Basel, but that failed to kill off the news cycle simply because people ignored it. Why bother with the facts when you can speculate wildly about the state of a footballer's marriage instead?

The speculation continued in complete defiance of the facts, and the whole thing reached its logically absurd conclusion this morning when Sky Sports News stuck a camera over a wall at Luton Airport and filmed Rooney getting the flight.

It was probably the most closely-observed boarding of an aeroplane since Abdelbaset Al Megrahi sauntered out of a Scottish prison and returned to Libya.

The story, of course, is nonsense. Rooney will play, he will be fine, and if he scores the England fans will cheer. Might he get a few boos? Perhaps, but with so many love rats to choose from, why would the Three Lions' travelling supporters single out Rooney?

Anyway, the notion that Rooney has been holed below the waterline by Sunday's 'revelations' is nonsense, as this has clearly been brewing for months.

Apparently Rooney's behaviour was common knowledge at Old Trafford before the World Cup, and it has been claimed the papers held off publishing revelations for fear of completely torpedo-ing England's chances in South Africa.

(So that one worked out well - instead of becoming a national pariah for cheating on Coleen, he did it with a bunch of performances that were spectacular only in the extent of their indifference.)

Not having my finger on the pulse of the Fleet Street scandal mill, I don't know the precise truth about what happened in what order.

But it is quite obvious that the first Coleen heard of it was not two days ago when she picked the Sunday paper off the doormat.

His marriage may very well be in trouble, but Rooney is in no more mental turmoil today than he was when he set up three goals against Bulgaria on Friday.

All this furore serves to obscure that England are about to play probably the hardest game of their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, against a side who have played in the last four major championships.

Switzerland's main attribute is a miserly defence and a stubborn refusal to commit players forward (a tactic that led Otto Rehhagel's reprehensible Greek side to glory at Euro 2004).

They shut out Spain at the World Cup, and have kept clean sheets in seven of their last nine competitive matches.

And we all know how good England are at patiently breaking down well-organised defence-minded opponents. Remember the coolness with which they picked apart an obdurate Algeria side in June? Oh.

The reality is that England side do not need a win - nil-nil would be fine. But such is the public's rabid desire to see tabloid newspapers use all their Photoshop skills to make a miniature Fabio Capello pop out of a cuckoo clock, only three points will keep the punters happy.

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