Wayne Rooney is a unique case. And not just for obvious reasons either. Not just because his barrel chest and primitive looks mask a deftness seen in few English footballers since the days of Glenn Hoddle & Paul Gascoigne in the late 80s. Not just because he seems to have a unique hold over referees and their assistants which means that a minute-long tirade of personal abuse can be overlooked. And not just because he managed to appear in a six-episode TV series on Sky One without actually saying anything other than “your touch is good/bad, I am/am not gonna put you through”.
No, the reason why young Wayne is such a special case is more obvious. Here is a man who should divide Merseyside, a lad brought up to be so Blue he could be confused for a Smurf. Adored by Everton, despised by Liverpool. That’s how he dreamt it as a child; winners at Anfield in the Royal Blue of Everton were what he imagined. Where Ian Rush, John Barnes & Kenny Dalglish were the idols of Liverpool kids, Duncan Ferguson was the only forward on Rooney’s radar.
But something changed in Wayne. Whether it was money, the influence of an agent whose intentions- on the face of it- seem murkier than a Bernie Mandic transfer deal, or the less-than-sensitive way he was handled by David Moyes, Rooney fell out of love with Everton, and in doing so he has managed not to divide Merseyside, but to unite it. Go outside of Croxteth, and the Lobster pub, and it is hard to find someone with too many kind words to utter about “Wazza”, Red or Blue.
There are subtle differences between the two sets of fans on Merseyside of course. Liverpool fans hate Rooney because he hates them- lets face it, anyone who has kissed both the Everton & Manchester United badges is never going to be particularly welcome at Anfield- whilst Everton fans hate him the way you hate a cheating girlfriend. They hate him cos they loved him and he hurt them, he even flaunted his new love in their faces. But deep down they know that one more kiss (of the badge of course) and they would take him back in an instant. And they know that if they did, he would probably hurt them again.
You might have noticed, but Rooney was all over the papers and sports pages this week after telling MUTV that he “grew up hating Liverpool, and that hasn’t changed”. Nothing too revealing there, born and bred Evertonian resents Liverpool. Stop the press.
No, not really! The furore caused in the aftermath of such a throwaway comment was laughable, papers claimed that Rooney had issued a “hate-filled rant” towards his former city rivals. Manchester United removed his comments from their official website, citing their inflammatory nature as the reason. Several commentators (who really should know better) claimed that Rooney was naÃ¯ve and ill-advised and that his comments would add an extra spice to the weekend’s game. Get real.
Quite why a lad telling the truth about his upbringing, and opinion on another club, is so terrible is beyond me. Liverpool fans have hardly given Rooney a fair reception whenever he has played at Anfield, one incident saw a mobile phone launched from the Kop as the aesthetically-challenged One celebrated a match-winner in front of the baying mob. Rooney has no reason to have altered his childhood opinion, and Liverpool fans, quite frankly, do not care if he hates us.
Of course the papers managed to outdo themselves today, claiming that Rooney’s words “backfired” after Liverpool’s 4-1 win at Old Trafford (did you think I wouldn’t mention it?) and his own below-par performance. Clever stuff from our beloved sports “analysts”. Footballer-makes-comment. Footballer-has-off-day. Comment-to-blame. It worked for the media with the “Rafa rant”, now we have the “Wazza waffle”. Never mind the truth.
The truth is, of course, that Rooney just didn’t play that well. He battled gamely, he always does. But his final ball was lacking, and he, like United in general, lacked the zip and energy that he usually possesses- particularly at Old Trafford. he was also handled pretty well by Martin Skrtel & Sami Hyypia, ably assisted by the excellent Javier Mascherano & Lucas Leiva. Any comments made in the run-up to the fixture- especially one as throwaway as Mr Rooney’s- are irrelevant.
So please, Mr Media, spare us the sensationalism. Spare us the notion that you know how Liverpool FC and its fans will react to such words, and spare us the tedium. Rooney hates us, we don’t care.