Sport Soccer

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Judicious stroking of Rooney rage helps Ferguson re-ignite United star's desire

What is it that links Wayne Rooney and John McEnroe, the loose cannons of separate sporting ages, beyond exceptional talent?

We may have had the most persuasive clue these few weeks. It could be fierce and absolutely untrammeled anger. Certainly the idea is irresistible when you consider the high points of both careers.

McEnroe won his first of seven Grand Slam titles as a snarling, precocious 20-year-old and that was just an opening salvo of ferocious intent. By his heyday at Wimbledon, a McEnroe eruption was as routine as the strawberries and cream.

Now, we are beginning to see a similar pattern in Rooney. When injury halted an astonishingly successful run towards the end of last season, it was as though the game had become almost too easy for the Manchester United and England striker. He played, he scored, but of course there was a terrible denouement.

It came with the crisis of his personal life created by revelations of tawdry collisions with a prostitute and then fresh notoriety accompanied his contract talks with United. For many they were not so much negotiations as a particularly egregious form of blackmail.

This is not to mention an appalling collapse of form, a wretched World Cup and a run of performances with his club so dire that it was almost as if he forgotten how to play the game that had rocketed him from the backstreets of Liverpool.

But now we have to consider the basis of his extraordinary surge back to the status of masterful footballer, a player who in three games has played a massive part in United's accelerating drive towards re-claiming the Premier League and their latest appearance in the semi-finals of the Champions League. It seems to have emerged from an extraordinary build-up of, yes, anger.


When he so remarkably turned around United's league game at West Ham two weekends ago it came with the force of a tornado. His face was contorted with what seemed like undiluted rage and of course he spat obscenities into the touchline camera and microphone. This cost him a two-game suspension, a decision to which he reacted with what seemed another terrible rush of bitterness.

What, though, did we see at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford as United swept Chelsea out of the Champions League? Was it another sighting of someone running off the rails, a super-talent burning up an impulse to self-destruct?

It was hardly that. Indeed, it had the same consequences of McEnroe's repeated rush to the edge. It brought performance of quite exquisite quality. At Stamford Bridge, Rooney scored the goal that put Chelsea under desperate pressure. He did it so nonchalantly he might have been turning the page of a newspaper.

When the ball flashed into the net he again rushed to the camera, but this time it seemed that he was, indeed, merely expressing joy rather than auditioning for a remake of 'The Exorcist.'

Does Rooney, like McEnroe before him, need to release a flood of anger before reaching out for the best of his talent?

One American psychiatrist was convinced that it was the basis of all of McEnroe's supreme achievement, saying: "The widespread belief is that McEnroe is so desperate to win, and so insecure about his chances of doing so, that it drives him into a frenzy.

"I think the dead opposite is true. Like many high achievers, McEnroe has to play tricks with himself to achieve optimum levels of performance. I believe his character is such that he knows precisely how good he is, but at the same he struggles to raise his game the ordinary way.

"He needs to be stimulated; he needs to convince himself that he is fighting an unjust world. That way, his momentum surges and he can get through the challenge. The key lies in one simple question: how many times does the behaviour of McEnroe work against him? Is he disabled by his rage -- or is it his opponent who is crucially distracted. I've made a bit of a study of it. McEnroe almost always wins after one of his eruptions."

Certainly there is more than a little circumstantial evidence linking Rooney to the McEnroe phenomenon.

Increasingly, the evidence suggests that Rooney has reached a high plateau of resentment to a critical world and that when he almost single-handedly dismantled West Ham. Clawing back their two-goal lead, and then completing his hat-trick with a show of almost atavistic satisfaction, he had a vision of himself as a supreme avenger of hateful disparagement.

There was more than a hint of this when he scored a spectacular winner against Manchester City in the derby game in February -- and provided the first concrete evidence that he might, indeed, have checked a disturbing tailspin.

He planted himself in front of the City section and raised his arms to the heavens. It was more than an ordinary celebration. It was a cry of bone-deep vindication of his self-belief.

McEnroe's lawyer father, Patrick, gave implicit support to the theory of his son's need for extremes of motivation. "Away from any form of competition, John's personality can be absolutely charming -- but in the family games, including checkers, his need to win did become paramount. I just wish the public could sometimes see the whole picture."


In the case of Rooney, this might be an ambition too far, a delving into some forces that might be best left to the man who is required to deal with them whenever he steps on to the football stage.

However, a motivator as shrewd as Alex Ferguson may well have concluded that in the case of his most naturally-gifted player, the virtues of anger management might be questionable.

For the moment at least a little judicious stoking of the rage might be the shrewdest path. Personality development, after all, for the moment runs a poor second to the fact that Wayne Rooney, trailing his anger, is once again on fire.

Irish Independent

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