I was sitting in the East stand the day Wayne Rooney scored that thunderbolt against Newcastle back in 2005.
We were coming to the end of what had been our worst season for our while, winning nothing and finishing third, the first time since the Premiership begun that we had gone two seasons without winning the title. That day, we’d gone a goal down to Newcastle thanks to another Tim Howard error, despite dominating the match. It looked to be another ‘one of those days’, like the one four days prior when we lost to Everton and had two men sent off.
As we approached the hour mark, things went from bad to worse, as Wayne Rooney, the only player on the pitch who seemed capable of turning the game around, started limping. These were the days of the shallow squad, with Silvestre, Kleberson and O’Shea our only options to replace him from the bench.
The ball was booted forward in the direction of Giggs only for Peter Ramage to head clear out of the box. Rooney took a couple of steps then made perfect connection with his right boot. The ball swung left then swerved back to the right, the power on it leaving Shay Given, who was stood on that side of the goal, with no chance.
Whilst I’d say my view of the goal was close to perfect, it was only upon returning home that I was able to see what was taking place moments before Rooney’s strike. As play was going on, Rooney was mythering the referee about something or other, with just one eye on the ball. Rooney was just a teenager back then but things haven’t changed much, with him spending large chunks of the game talking with or shouting at the ref.
Whilst I think the principles behind the Respect campaign are admirable, I don’t have a lot of time for it, thanks to the referee’s inability to follow it through. On a weekly basis I see players getting in the referee’s face every time a freekick is awarded in Cristiano Ronaldo’s favour and the referee hasn’t given out a single yellow card for dissent to the opposition this season at Old Trafford for it.
I remember Ronaldo being awarded a yellow card for dissent at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season, for wagging his finger at the referee, in a ‘oh ho no, you got that one wrong mister!’ fashion, whilst on his knees, yards away from the referee in the last minute of the game.
Two days later we played Middlesbrough and their thug of a captain planted his studs just below Rodrigo Possebon’s knee. He was rightly shown a straight red card but had the audacity to contest it. His team mates surrounded the referee, shouting in his face, pulling on his arms, and none of them were booked.
This is just an example I’m familiar with and I’m not for one second suggesting United are the only ones to have done badly by this. The point I’m highlighting is the inconsistency with it all. If all players who mouthed back at the referee were shown the yellow card, they would quickly learn to stop doing it.
As it is, a small number of players are booked for having a go at the referee, whilst the vast majority get away with it. Respect isn’t something that is given freely, it is earned and demanded. If the referees in this country had been entirely consistent with the Respect campaign then it would have been a success. This hasn’t been the case though because they’re so hit and miss. It depends on the ref, the match, the situation and the player as to who will be booked for dissent and who won’t.
One of the worst offenders for giving the referee hassle is Wayne Rooney. Whilst I don’t see much problem in him wittering in referee’s ear, like he did against Newcastle all those years ago, I have a big problem with the frequency in which he verbally abuses the referee. “F**k off!” will be the response given when a referee makes a decision Rooney doesn’t agree with. It is bang out of line and as a role model for young lads all over the country, he should behave better.
However, if a referee showed Rooney a yellow card every time he told them to do one, it would put an end to it. He might not be the sharpest tool in the box but even he could learn swearing at the ref equals yellow card. I want to emphasise that I’m not taking all responsibility away from Rooney here, however I do believe some of the responsibility lies with the referee for not handling the situation properly.
At times though, Rooney’s foul language and treatment of referees seems to get confused with his passion for the game and his desire to win. Telling the referee to “f**k off” because a decision has gone against him is nothing to do with his passion or his fiery nature.
It was a naff day at Fulham. We’d gone down to ten men and gone a goal down as a result at the beginning of the game. Despite putting on the pressure and forcing brilliant saves from the opposition, we conceded a second on the break. The players were fed up, the fans were fed up and everyone else associated with the club was fed up.
United were awarded a freekick and Ryan Giggs, in his urgency to get on with the game, took it from where the ball had fallen, rather than from where the foul occurred. The ball reached Rooney and Dowd had blown his whistle, instructing for the freekick to be retaken. Dowd was right to do this as there was some distance between the two spots. Still, it was frustrating because we just wanted to get on with it.
Rooney picked up the ball and lobbed it in the direction of the correct spot for the retake. Was he angry and frustrated when he did this? Yes, of course he was, but his act arose from his desire to get on with the game, just as Giggs had also shown in taking the freekick in a hurry. To award a yellow card for throwing the ball back with force to the position where it should be retaken is pathetic. This wasn’t petulance or throwing the ball away or an attack on the referee, it was a frustrated player wanting to get the ball in to play. On what planet can that be seen as a deserved yellow card?
It was what followed which showed the negative side of Rooney, as he angrily confronted the referee. Whilst I fully support why he was so angry, as much as bemused, I can’t support a player angrily getting in a referee’s face. He was joined by Rio Ferdinand and Darren Fletcher, who were equally as surprised and annoyed by the situation, but still, it is unbecoming behaviour which the Respect campaign was attempting to wipe out. It must be noted that neither Ferdinand nor Fletcher were booked for dissent, again undermining the FA’s campaign.
What we saw at Fulham last weekend were the best and worst sides of Rooney, although the worst side only came after he was wrongly sent off. The two sides of him have blurred in to one though, meaning it was deemed the right decision for Phil Dowd to give him a second yellow.
The Daily Mail: Rooney over-reacted to Dowd’s whistle by hurling the ball, with child-like petulance, down the field. Dowd raised a yellow card, then instantly turned it to red. As Rooney left the field, eyes blazing wild, he smashed a corner flag that duly bounced around like a speed ball in gymnasium.
The Guardian: Then Rooney stole the headlines by daftly hurling the ball away in frustration, for which Dowd had no option than to serve up his second yellow card.
Rooney’s behaviour after the booking was worthy of a yellow card which is why the usual negative stereotypes of our player get flung about, calling him “petulant” and the like. In his defence, most players tend to react when they believe they have been dealt with unjustly but it still doesn’t make it acceptable. The point is Rooney did nothing to warrant the yellow card he was given and the talk of his “temperament” should be saved for his reaction to the ridiculous booking, not the incident which brought about the booking. Had Rooney walked off the field calmly, I’d like to think some sections of the press might have pointed out just how ludicrous it was to send him off in the first place!
Rooney punched the corner flag on the way to the tunnel which Fabio Capello felt was enough to label him as a “crazy man” whilst the media believed this was enough to order him to change. Do me a favour! If one of our players is pissed off with a decision and decides to take it out over the corner flag, I’m not going to get too worked up about it (It’s when our players drop-kick spectators that I tend to get a tad nervous!).
Regardless, the only thing Rooney needs to change is his back-chat and aggression shown towards referees. His fiery temperament and nature when on the field, letting his opponents know that he is about and desperately covering every blade of grass to fight for his team is why we love him. I wouldn’t have him any other way. Eric Cantona and Roy Keane make Rooney look like a pussycat and they are the two greatest players I have seen wear our shirt. Rooney reacts because he cares, because of his need to win and because of his love for the game. If that means every now and again he has a ‘moment’, then I’m prepared to put up with it.
His England team-mates felt the need to defend him though after the mauling he got in the press, ahead of the World Cup qualifiers to be played over the next week.
“With Wayne Rooney you don’t get the exceptional talent and player you have without that side of his game,” said David Beckham. “If you take that side out of his game he becomes a different player, a different animal. You don’t want to take that out of him. Sometimes it flows over. He’s done it a few times with myself. It happens. He knows it’s not right, I know it’s not right, but it happens. You don’t want to take that out of him.”
England captain John Terry echoed this sentiment.
“I think some players are born with that passion and fire inside their belly and Wayne’s certainly got that,” he said. “I think if we try and take that away he won’t be the player he is. He’s a world class player, so let him get on with his football. He’s got some great people around him, the experienced lads at Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson, and I’m sure if he steps out of line one of them will talk to him. Wayne knows his limit and we have seen him calm down over the years as he has matured and grown up.”
The England boss has also shown support to Rooney, backtracking on his “crazy man” comments.
“I said it, but it was a joke. He understood that it was a joke,” Capello said. “I was a player and sometimes I did the same. It depends on the moment, the score, the opponents, a lot of things. For me Rooney is a very good player. He’s young. Sometimes his reaction is not so good, but he’s a good player and a good man. I think at this moment he was a little angry because they were losing and he was red-carded. That’s why he did this. But there’s no problem with Rooney in the future. I spoke with him. I’m very happy after I spoke. Sometimes we need to be a little bit aggressive during the game. I hope the level of aggression will be balanced. This is very important. I’m sure he’ll play very, very well with us. We want the team to be aggressive. Good aggression.”
It’s certainly long overdue that somebody had a word with Rooney about his swearing, but the talk of petulance is borne from lazy journalism and a desire to stereotype and criticise England’s brightest stars. If England or Manchester United or any other team had eleven players who worked as hard and cared as much about the game as Rooney, they really could be branded the untouchables.
Take away his fire, passion and aggression then you’re left with a gifted player who won’t fight for the team and who cares more about the pay cheque than the result… and God knows we have enough of them in our league already!