Class act Rooney can rise above England's mediocrity
United star can terrorise rivals again after summer of unjustified criticism, writes Richard Sadlier
Wayne Rooney got into trouble last week for going on a night out with his wife. It seems the more we learn about the private lives of public figures, the less we are prepared to tolerate.
Rooney was photographed socialising -- or drinking -- with his wife and friends. This seems to have fed the outrage of those who believe footballers in their 20s should not, even occasionally, do what lads in their 20s do. Had he chosen to go on the piss in the build-up to a game, then the criticism may have been justified. But he didn't, so it isn't.
Pre-season nights out with your wife are not an offence in the eyes of any right-minded people, despite the ludicrous nature of how the night was reported.
In fact, given the stories which emerged about his personal life when he was 16, and the concerns which emerged as a result, he has been pretty much a model professional off the field throughout his career.
The English media and the England fans are still smarting from their South African experience, though, and it appears they are not yet ready to cope with images of the offenders enjoying themselves. To many, Rooney's night out represents further evidence that footballers are becoming increasingly out of touch and have little or no understanding of the disappointment felt by real fans when results are poor. To others, though, it was simply a 24-year-old having a few drinks on a night off.
Rooney has had a difficult few months, among the toughest he has had to endure in his career. The ankle injury sustained in Munich was as much to blame for United missing out on a fourth Premier League title in a row as anything else, and had he remained fit, the club would surely have gone at least a round further in the Champions League.
Then, fully expected to carry the hopes of the England team on his shoulders, his awful displays at the World Cup were the cause for most discussion surrounding England's embarrassing performances. He was no worse than the majority of his over-hyped team-mates, but was singled out because he's one of the few who could be significantly better. The global audience could not figure out how such a good player could play so badly.
That he under-performed so heavily was perhaps the biggest surprise to us all. However, maybe it is time we realised that repeating the form showed last season for Manchester United was always going to be difficult during the World Cup, playing alongside so many English players. It's been a long time since an Englishman excelled anywhere at the highest level in a line-up made up mainly of English team-mates, so maybe it's time we stopped expecting them to do so.
That said, of all those who were expected to impress in South Africa, he returned having disappointed the most.
He will be mocked and jeered by fans in every away ground in which he plays, the focal point of the anger at what went on in South Africa. If the reaction to Wednesday's game at the Aviva Stadium is anything to go on, it seems he will be criticised further for every non-scoring performance he gives.
He is not the first Manchester United player to return from a World Cup with something of a cloud over his head (Beckham '98, Keane '02, Ronaldo '06), but he may have to wait four years to silence those not yet convinced he can perform on the very biggest stage when it matters most. He is used to being the focus of attention wherever he plays, but he may well have to withstand new levels of scrutiny and bullshit that even he hasn't experienced before.
Clearly he is happier at Manchester United, away from the unrealistic expectations and mediocrity of the England set-up. It may take a while to regain full match fitness following his extended break, but he will continue to be the player feared most by opponents when they face Manchester United anywhere.
Wayne Rooney has nothing to prove, but I'm sure he'll prove it anyway.