Thursday 18 January 2018

'Wazza' of old has never been far from the surface

Wayne Rooney. Photo: PA
Wayne Rooney. Photo: PA

Sam Wallace

It feels like a long time since Wayne Rooney took the microphone at the end of his charity testimonial against Everton in August and in doing so adding lustre to the new, more mature image of the English player of his generation.

This was the England captain in the round, as brought to you by Gary Lineker's documentary portrait of the star at home with family, or simply pointing out famous landmarks in his native Croxteth from the open window of his 4x4.

Rooney was moving smoothly towards the post-football years and whatever reinventions they might require.

On Saturday night it was the interfering spirit floating above his other shoulder that reasserted control, the old anarchic version of England most prolific goalscorer - let us just call this one for argument's sake, Wazza. And what Wazza wanted more than anything was a drink, and then perhaps another and then another.

It was notable that in Rooney's apology, he apologised for the "images" rather than any allegations about behaviour that emerged from the wedding that he crashed in spectacular style at the Grove Hotel. All told, the images were not that bad, just Rooney in his squad-issue polo and trackies alongside two women, one of whom seemed to be wearing his training top.

However much he had or had not drunk, Rooney could never be accused of breaching that old Football Association commercial imperative that all players on England duty must wear sponsors' branded clothing at all times.

What is at stake here is the image of Rooney himself. None of those with an interest in his potentially lucrative future wants the highest goalscorer in the history of the England team, or - as he surely will be soon - Manchester United, to roll into retirement with one of the enduring images being him looking worse for wear and an arm around his shoulder belonging to female persons unidentified.

It feels like Rooney has been trying to be on his best behaviour for so long now - 14 years all told. He knows that the great adventure is winding down and things are coming to a head this season with his first omissions from the team for club and country. He recognises that it will not be long before Gareth Southgate and Jose Mourinho decide that a big decision has to be made about the future of their captain.

Rooney has toed the line for a long time now and played up to a version of himself that the commercial partners were only too happy to endorse - and, to give the man his credit, an image that was of great benefit to many major charities.

But Rooney will always be Rooney, forever the man enthusiastically strapping on a pair of boxing gloves in his kitchen and then later coming to under the breakfast bar with Phil Bardsley anxiously shaking him awake.

On Saturday night, in the knowledge that he would not be playing for another seven days Rooney appears to have made one minor misjudgement after another before becoming arguably the most interesting guest never formally invited to that wedding on the outskirts of Watford. It was not, all told, the worst transgression on the list of embarrassments perpetrated by footballers on the modern game.

There are a few questions that remain unanswered about the whole show, not least how much he had to drink which for now we can only assume was close to the verdict of one guest, hitherto unchallenged, that he was "s---faced". Also, does anyone really believe that the entirety of the rest of the England squad were just tucked up in bed?

Rooney is 31 now, the elder statesman of the England team and with a fine career behind him, and as ever, image is everything. The conclusion must be not that the Wazza of old is back, but that the Wazza of old has never gone away.

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