Rooney's greed is a symptom of the sickness that's killing football
YOU have to admire Wayne Rooney's sheer cheek. There he is, currently playing like a drain, his private life splattered all over the tabloids, tarnishing both his own image and that of his employer -- and yet he has put in a demand seeking to more than double his salary.
£200,000 (€228,000) a week, he apparently reckons Manchester United should pay him. And if they don't, he'll go elsewhere. The club, however, appears to have told him that is rather more than a footballer as tarnished as he is worth.
And since his manager, the hoary old disciplinarian Sir Alex Ferguson, is of the opinion that rather than insisting on a massive pay rise, Rooney should show a little contrition, humility and work ethic, a parting of the ways is inevitable.
"The boy is adamant he wants to go," Ferguson said yesterday. "I am dumb-founded."
Fergie's confusion is shared by many. You might wonder who exactly Rooney thinks he is. His attitude to reward reminds you of the bonus-bloated city banker, forever insisting on more, whatever the public outrage at his behaviour. As Rooney seeks pay worth 10 times in a week what the average worker in his home town will earn in a year, wider reality has no bearing on his sense of his own worth.
Rooney, mind, is by no means alone in football. At Liverpool, Joe Cole has been performing recently as if in possession of two left feet. A feeble parody of the young player once reckoned to have the potential to be the finest England has ever produced, Cole has had a woeful time on Merseyside since moving from Chelsea.
Luckily for him, though, he is not on performance-related pay. And despite giving the impression that he is playing in custard, Cole has banked more than £1m since his move up north.
This is the absurdity of the game: it doesn't matter how shallow are their achievements, players expect the kind of return that would embarrass Croesus.
How can this be? Because, ridiculous as it may seem, while United -- their finances horribly compromised by debt -- might baulk at meeting Rooney's extravagant claim, there are others who will cheerfully acquiesce. Notably the club across town.
Rooney's people (all top footballers have an entourage these days -- Peter Crouch is said to have a staff of seven) have pointed out that players far less renowned than he are on such sums at the oil-money-infused Manchester City. The market, they claim, is there for all to examine. Their man expects nothing more than to have his place within it recognised.
You wonder how long this can go on. How can the game continue to offer salaries way beyond any rational level of sustainability? For 10 years, Cassandras like me have been saying that English football cannot carry on like this and predicting that the fissure between reality and fantasy will fracture and tear the whole edifice apart. For a decade, as the pump has been consistently applied, inflating the bubble to ever-greater absurdity, we have consistently been proven wrong.
AND yet, the Rooney case cannot appear as anything other than a watershed -- not least in the collision between manager and player. Ferguson represents the old ways of the game: top-down discipline, the exercise of authority, the insistence on doing things the boss's way.
Unlike players of the past, Rooney, though, regards himself as no mere chattel of the club, expected to tug his forelock and do what he is told. His people insist he is a brand, a commercial property of wider significance, deserving of his own rules.
If a figure as significant as Ferguson cannot keep such a player under his control, then this is the moment we must recognise that power has shifted fundamentally. What we are seeing is confirmation of a new dynamic within the game: the final and total ascendancy of money. (© Daily Telegraph, London)