Sport Soccer

Sunday 13 October 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'There's no disgrace in not matching Messi, but Rooney failed to reach his own potential'

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Wayne Rooney. Photo: Getty Images
Wayne Rooney. Photo: Getty Images
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

The Wayne Rooney story is beginning to assume a somewhat melancholy tinge. His recent arrest for being drunk at Dulles Airport in Washington follows the ban for driving with three times the permitted level of alcohol about a year and a half ago and other booze-related scrapes.

Perhaps worst of all, the Washington bust led to the revelation that Rooney had once been on the beer with Piers Morgan, a disgraced former tabloid editor turned Katie Hopkins-style controversialist who might serve as Exhibit A in the case, "What's gone wrong with the English these days."

We know this because Morgan's wife told how Rooney had fallen over a plant pot during these no doubt joyous revels. That Morgan himself told the same story four years ago proves he's the last person someone fond of the gargle should be bringing along on a tear.

Is it wrong to think that there's something slightly disappointing about the way Rooney's career panned out? After all, he'll end it as the all-time record goalscorer for both Manchester United and England.

Yet to proclaim his career an unmitigated success is to ignore the huge expectations which once attended Rooney. He was hailed as a rival to Lionel Messi and seen as superior to his Manchester United team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. Even allowing for some English exaggeration, Rooney did have the potential to be one of the world's great players.

The 183 goals in 393 games for Manchester United is a tally beyond the capabilities of most strikers, yet it pales into insignificance next to Messi's 399 in 434 games for Barcelona or the 311 Ronaldo racked up in 293 matches for Real Madrid.

More importantly, both Messi and Ronaldo are still doing it at the highest level while the most disappointing thing about Rooney is the way his career has fizzled out. Messi at 31 is two years younger than Rooney but Ronaldo is seven months older.

Rooney was close to his peak in the 2011-'12 season when he hit 34 goals in 44 games and dragged United to the Premier League title. That makes his subsequent precipitous decline all the more unusual. In his last three years at United the club's former star became increasingly irrelevant, scoring a total of 37 goals. Two seasons ago Rooney scored just eight. New signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic hit 28 and often seemed to be carrying the club on his back. What was most striking was how vital and energetic the Swedish star looked next to his English counterpart. Yet Ibrahimovic was four years older than Rooney.

That season was Rooney's last with United. When he moved to Everton there were high hopes that a move back to the club where he began his career would lead to a rejuvenation. The pressure which attended him at Old Trafford would be gone and he would get the chance to play deeper, finding a new role in the autumn of his career. Instead he sparkled only fitfully and it was seen as no major tragedy at Goodison Park when he moved to Major League Soccer's DC United.

Given that Rooney hasn't really played well since turning 30, America offered a shot at redemption. That's why he can't sabotage his career there. If this doesn't work out, what's left for him on the field? You worry about what may happen to him when he hangs up his boots.

His decline on the field pretty obviously stems from an inability to look after himself in the same way that his continental rivals did. Rooney may not be spectacularly dysfunctional in the manner of Paul Gascoigne, but, as Danny Murphy observed last week, most of the man's mishaps seem to stem from drink. You wonder how much he might have achieved given a more abstemious lifestyle. There's no disgrace in not matching Messi or Ronaldo but there must be moments when Rooney wonders how good he might have been had he minded himself a bit better.

His current situation is far from hopeless. Rooney actually played well in DC last season, getting better as the campaign went on and being selected on the MLS team of the season. In a league where Ibrahimovic and David Villa are scoring away at the age of 37 and Bradley Wright-Phillips is a major star, Rooney has a great chance to finish with a flourish.

He'll never make a David Beckham-style impact Stateside. Their personalities are too different for that. But he can ensure that the headlines are about what he does on rather than off the field.

It's up to himself really. It always has been.

The Last Word: 'Viewing numbers up for rugby's doubters'

One of the sillier pieces of chatter you see doing the rounds is the assertion that the Irish media are determined to foist rugby upon the general public. According to this theory, your ordinary Patrick Soap has no interest in this game which gets too much coverage because papers are determined to curry favour with posh people.

Well, there must be an awful lot of posh people out there because, according to figures released last week, the most-watched sporting event in this country in 2018 was the Six Nations match between Ireland and England which attracted 975,600 viewers. Ireland's win over the All Blacks came second with 926,600. This compares to 854,400 for the All-Ireland hurling final and 841,100 for the All-Ireland football final.

Lads, you might not like rugby. You might have some grudge against the people who play it. But there's no point pretending it's not popular. Give it a rest.

* * * * *

Cork GAA's five-year plan to revive football in the county has received a warm welcome from people who've never seen one of these documents they didn't like. Personally, when I hear someone saying, as county chairman Tracey Kennedy did, "We have put in place ten pillars which work in tandem with those four focused areas and hopefully deliver the strategies in the plan. There are also a number of key appointments that we think will be vital to drive the delivery of the plan," I tend to reach for my revolver.

Kennedy thinks the problem is that, "our sense of Corkness has been threatened". This is meaningless waffle. The main reason Cork football is in the doldrums is because of a series of disastrous managerial appointments which squandered the potential of a generation of players who'd regularly beaten Kerry at under 21 level.

Admitting that would have been a significant step on the road to recovery. The absence of such an admission suggests little will change for the Rebels.

* * * * *

Pity the poor NFL kicker. A figure so unglamorous he can walk down most American streets unrecognised, the kicker only hits the headlines when things go wrong. That's how it's been for Cody Parkey of the Chicago Bears after his 43-yard field goal to win the wild-card playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles hit the post and hopped off the crossbar before falling the wrong side of it this night last week.

It must have felt like Groundhog Day for Parkey who, back in November, hit the woodwork four times against the Detroit Lions. Had he made the kick, there'd have been praise but the focus would have shifted to the role played by his more high-profile team-mates.

To make things even more galling, Parkey had actually converted his first attempt but this was ruled out because the Eagles called a time-out during his run-up. This move, known as 'icing the kicker', is one of sport's craftiest or lousiest manoeuvres, depending on your allegiance.

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