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Wayne Rooney: A Beautiful Mess

Wayne Rooney: A Beautiful Mess

Wayne Rooney has a nasty temper and neurotic tics, likes fags and whores, and is the pride of England

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GOODISON PARK, LIVERPOOL

April 16, 1996

The sky cameras saw it, but it would be almost a decade before anybody realized what they had recorded. Before all games, mascots take a few shots at the goalkeeper. If they’re younger kids, they often struggle to make the ball reach the goal; if they’re older, they tend to kick the ball to the keeper, as though they’re warming them up, rather than risk the embarrassment of trying to beat them and failing. But before the Merseyside derby, a stocky 10-year-old with a rash of freckles casually chipped the ball over the head of the Everton goalkeeper, Neville Southall, into the net. Southall grinned ruefully, collected the ball, and rolled it back to him, muttering about him being “a flash git.” The 10-year-old did it again.

If his father, Wayne, had had his way, Wayne Rooney would have been named Adrian, after the ’80s Everton forward, Adrian Heath. But Rooney’s mother was adamant that her family’s tradition should be maintained: The first-born son should be named after the father. Years later, the couple welcomed Graeme Rooney into the world, named after Heath’s strike partner Graeme Sharp.

Rooney had sporting genes and grew up in an environment in which football was an obsession. Wayne senior was a laborer who drifted in and out of work and was also a handy boxer. Rooney’s maternal grandfather, also a laborer, had been a semiprofessional footballer. His mother had run for her school and had been invited for national trials. She never went. “Couldn’t be bothered, I suppose,” said Rooney. His father was a devout Evertonian and carried baby Wayne to matches in his arms. Rooney wore an Everton shirt most days, and every night from the age of 6, he kicked a ball about on the pitch at the housing estate’s sports center. When it closed for the night, he’d climb over the fence and keep playing, such a fixture that the caretaker would leave the floodlights on for him. His school report for PE when he was 10 noted he was “a little boisterous” and suggested “he should learn to control this for safety reasons.”

The young Rooney was a strange mix. He was quiet in the classroom but confident on the football pitch, while in private he was a mass of neuroses. Until he was 5, he slept most nights in his parents’ bed, terrified of a yellow-and-green ghost he believed he’d seen on the windowsill in his room. Even when he started sleeping alone, he kept a light on and found the noise of a vacuum cleaner comforting. Later in life, he would replicate that habit with a hair dryer. He admitted in his autobiography that when his wife, Coleen, was away, he preferred to sleep in the extension at her parents’ house rather than stay by himself at home.

The bus that went around his estate was known as the Benny Bus: If he or his cousins saw it, they would leap behind a nearby wall and stay out of sight until it had gone, believing a clear view would bring bad luck. He hated being in a room with a door that was ajar, having either to close it or open it fully. The comparison to Paul Gascoigne, who suffered a similar collection of tics, is obvious, so much so that Rooney felt the need to address the issue in his first autobiography, insisting he never had serious mental issues.

GOODISON PARK, LIVERPOOL

October 19, 2002

Arsenal had gone 30 games unbeaten when they went to Everton, and with the game moving into injury time, they looked likely to extend that sequence by one.

Everton goalkeeper Richard Wright took a long goal kick. Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira headed the ball clear, but the bounce favored Everton’s David Unsworth, who beat Sylvain Wiltord and nodded the ball inside to Thomas Gravesen. The Danish midfielder knocked the ball aimlessly forward, but Rooney stretched out a leg and plucked it from the sky. He had Lauren to his left and Vieira to his right, so there seemed little danger to the Arsenal goal, but as they backed off, he turned away from goal, creating space for himself. He shuffled forward and hit a dipping, arcing shot over David Seaman into the net. The shot was probably aimed at the other side of goal, which diminishes its majesty a little, but almost more important was the first touch, the awareness and the effrontery to try a shot from there. Against the champions. Against the England goalkeeper. It was his first Premier League goal in his ninth league appearance for the club. He was 16.

The first club to ask Rooney for a trial had been Liverpool. Unthinkingly, he turned up in an Everton shirt, not as some sort of gesture of defiance but because that was what he always wore. He did well enough to be asked back for a second trial, but Everton arranged a trial for the same day, and he went to that instead. He started training with the club and, at 16, was given the No. 18 shirt Gascoigne had once worn.

A stroppier, bolshier Rooney was beginning to emerge. A school report reprimanded him for being late to class repeatedly, being distracted by “gambling.” He insisted it was a game known at his school as jingles, one common in schoolyards across Britain in which participants toss a coin toward a wall and the one who gets his coin closest without hitting it claims all the other coins. It wasn’t so much the gambling that made him late, he later said, as the fact that he just didn’t care about school. He was also suspended for two days after kicking a hole in the wall of the science lab after a teacher had confiscated a ball he was bouncing in the corridor. Life, for him, had become primarily about sports: boxing and football.

There were also problems on the pitch. Rooney threatened to quit training at Everton because there was a coach he didn’t like. The coach wanted him to train with the defenders, and when Rooney refused, he dropped him. Rooney acquiesced after that and—much later—admitted that the experience had made him a better player: “For a striker, I’m a good defender,” he said. Clashes with authority became common.

When he was 14, Rooney’s knees started to swell up and he suffered backaches. For weeks he hid the problem from Everton, terrified they would stop him from training, but eventually he had to admit the pain was inhibiting him. It was diagnosed as Osgood-Schlatter disease, common among young athletes as their growing bodies struggle to cope with the strain. He gave up boxing training, and the problem disappeared.

There were other teenage issues. Alcohol and cigarettes, he insisted, were never a draw: He claimed the cider he swigged as a 13-year-old did nothing for him, and in his first autobiography, he said, “I tried to smoke an ordinary cigarette once, but never liked it.” Time would cast doubt on that claim.

And then there were girls, one in particular. Rooney had known Coleen McLoughlin for years. He had once been bawled at in the street by her father for breaking her brother’s tennis racket (not his fault, an accident, he still maintains), but had plucked up the nerve to ask her out. This came only after he’d fixed her bike when the chain came off as she rode past a fish-and-chips shop he was hanging around outside of. They went for a walk around the estate, bonded over Grease, and kissed behind the church. Two days later they went to the cinema to see casino online Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. He found it hilarious; she didn’t.

ESTÁDIO DA LUZ, LISBON

June 21, 2004

England needed to draw with Croatia to make it through to the quarterfinal of the Euros. Midway through the second half of a surprisingly attacking game, England led 2-1. Having gone behind early, they leveled as Rooney cleverly headed a rebound into the path of Paul Scholes, and gave England the lead as he thumped in a drive from 25 yards. Midway through the second half, as Croatia pressed, further security was required. Rooney picked the ball up just inside his own half, advanced, and when confronted by two Croatians, laid the ball left for Michael Owen. He ran on, took the return, surged to the edge of the area, and then with glorious inevitability, slid a shot past Tomislav Butina. England went on to win 4-2.

Rooney was 18. At the time he was the youngest player ever to play for England, and he remains the youngest ever to score for England. He scored four goals in two games and played with a swagger and an assurance that outstripped that of Owen in 1998, even that of Gascoigne in 1990. Sven-Göran Eriksson compared his influence on the tournament to that of Pelé on the World Cup in 1958. At last, England fans thought, they had one of those wunderkind that other nations always seemed to produce. After all the years of failure, England finally seemed to have a totemic figure who was producing on a major stage, who could end the 38 years of hurt.

In the quarterfinal, they met Portugal. England took the lead after three minutes, but after the 27th minute, Jorge Andrade trod on Rooney’s foot as they chased a ball. It looked like nothing. Rooney ran on, then realized something was amiss. Only when he took off his boot did the agony strike: Andrade had cracked Rooney’s metatarsal and shattered England’s hopes.

FIFA WM STADION, GELSENKIRCHEN

July 1, 2006

Rooney, on the halfway line, scrambled between Petit and Ricardo Carvalho, half falling, desperately protecting the ball. Just over an hour of the World Cup quarterfinal had been played, and it was still goalless. Rooney twisted away from Petit, but the tussle with Carvalho went on. Rooney, his upper body strength prodigious, shook him off. Carvalho went down, and Rooney’s left foot jabbed out, stamping on the Portugal defender’s groin. Horacio Elizondo, the Argentine referee, was 5 yards away. Out came the red card. England battled hard but lost on penalties.

Rooney has always protested his innocence in the incident, claiming he was simply off balance, but the video footage seems clear enough. After the promise of the Euros, it was a desperately sad end, but not a surprising one. Andrade hadn’t just broken Rooney’s metatarsal; he had also destroyed his image as the golden boy of English football.

Rooney’s temper had always been an issue. In youth football it was far from uncommon for him to be substituted because referees felt he had lost his head. In December 2002, he was sent off for a lunge at Birmingham’s Steve Vickers, something he insists was a fair but firm challenge. His refusal to accept the blame, in fact, is a feature of his autobiographies—whether for red cards, breaking Coleen’s brother’s tennis racket, or other misunderstandings.

That same month, he drew censure for accepting the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year award—a prize presented with a degree of formality—while chewing gum, his tie wrenched down and top button undone. There’d been a fight at Coleen’s 18th birthday party between bouncers and members of Rooney’s family. After Euro 2004, tabloids revealed that he’d visited Diva’s Massage Parlor as a 16-year-old. It was reported that he’d paid for sex with a “grandmother,” but this was revealed to be untrue in November 2013, after a wider government investigation into phone hacking by British tabloids. It also emerged that Rooney’s password for his phone had been “Stella Artois.”

As he recovered from the broken metatarsal, Rooney was sold to Manchester United. Everton fans vandalized his house and accused him of being “a greedy bastard.” Rooney later revealed that his relationship with David Moyes had disintegrated, as he accused the Everton manager of being “controlling” and “jealous” of his success. Given that Moyes later became his manager again, it probably wasn’t wise to admit that he had once thrown a bucket of cold water over the then Everton boss as he sat on the toilet.

Yet amid all the furor, Rooney scored a hat trick in his Manchester United debut, a 6-2 win over Fenerbahçe at Old Trafford. He still seemed to have the golden touch. Those who wondered what would have happened had Gascoigne come under the influence of a manager as strong as Ferguson were relieved. On his 19th birthday, Rooney won a penalty—controversially—and then scored the second goal as United ended Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten run, the game that famously became known as the Battle of the Buffet. But slowly the magic began to fade.

In September 2005, Rooney played wide for England in a 4-3-3 away to Northern Ireland. He was lucky not to be sent off for a flailing elbow and was then clearly seen telling David Beckham to “fuck off.” England lost 1-0, and Rooney’s attitude—the ease with which he became frustrated—was excoriated. He admits he hates losing to the extent that he will unplug the PlayStation if he’s being beaten; at Fulham in 2009, he became so worked up, he threw the ball at the referee—although he insisted it wasn’t deliberate.

The bad news kept coming. The following April it was revealed he had run up significant debts with a bookmaker. Later that month, in an away game at Chelsea, he broke another metatarsal in a clash with another Portuguese defender, this time Paulo Ferreira. England sweated over X-rays of the star’s foot during the buildup to a second successive World Cup. Rooney was pronounced fit for the tournament, but he never quite looked it. He threw down his boots in temper after being substituted against Sweden, and then, looking like a fish out of water as a lone center forward, four minutes after scuffing a decent chance against Portugal, came his red card.

OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER

February 12, 2011

Nani’s cross was deflected, making it loopier, slower. Rooney twisted in the air and hooked the ball with astonishing power back over his left shoulder and into the top corner. United won the derby 2-1 against Manchester City with a four-point lead. They went on to win the title. It was a quite brilliant goal, said Ferguson, the best he’d ever seen at Old Trafford, and it confirmed an uneasy truce.

To say that Rooney’s form after the 2006 World Cup has been characterized by inconsistency would be unfair, but there was certainly a sense that the genius visible inPortugal in 2004 has been seen only fleetingly. As Ronaldo improved and increasingly took responsibility, Rooney made fewer and fewer headlines. He antagonized England fans by waving two fingers at a group who jeered him after a 2-0 defeat away to Croatia in a Euro 2008 qualifier in October 2006. England failed to reach the Euros, but 2007–08 was an exceptional one for Rooney as he, Ronaldo, and Carlos Tévez formed a hardworking and highly fluid front three (or more accurately, three of a front four, with Giggs often a fixed point for them to work off). Rooney was often deployed wide, using his defensive capacity to close down the opposing fullback. It wasn’t glamorous—and it later came out that he didn’t enjoy the role—but he performed it diligently despite the relative lack of plaudits. His reward was the Champions League.

After Ronaldo left, Rooney once again became a more central player, and by 2009–10 he was often leading the line as a lone forward, the task that had so frustrated him in 2006. This time, though, he reveled in it, scoring 26 league goals and forming an understanding with Luis Antonio Valencia—at least until suffering an ankle injury in the Champions League quarterfinal against Bayern Munich.

Having tasted the glory of goals, though, Rooney was reluctant or unable to adjust—even though he identified so much with a deeper position that he demanded the No. 10 shirt when Ruud van Nistelrooy left the club. There were many things that went wrong for England at the World Cup in South Africa, and one of them was that Rooney, having played all through the qualifiers as a deep-lying center forward—with Emile Heskey ahead of him, Theo Walcott wide on right, and Steven Gerrard tucked in on the left as Ashley Cole overlapped—drifted too high. The balance that had been so potent in qualifying was lost, and England scraped through the group before being thrashed by Germany in the second round. As fans booed after the 0-0 draw against Algeria, Rooney scowled into a camera and condemned them. As it turned out, Rooney had known that tabloids were about to expose a fling he’d had while Coleen was pregnant.

Struggling with his ankle injury and locked in a “cycle of bad form,” Rooney asked for a transfer that autumn from Manchester United. Or at least that is the version he later put out. At the time, he complained about a lack of ambition and quality signings at the club. Ferguson persuaded him to stay, and Rooney was rewarded with a handsome new five-year contract, but there was a froideur between him and the fans.

The overhead kick against City helped change that. A subsequent interview with David Winner gave a glimpse of Rooney’s brain, as he explained his sense of time slowing as the ball approached. That, in part, he said, was due to his refined visualization techniques. So refined, that Rooney asks the kitman exactly what strip United will be wearing the day before matches so he can see the action better in his head.

OLD TRAFFORD, MANCHESTER

Aug. 25, 2012

United led fulham 3-2 as Hugo Rodallega shaped to shoot. Rooney flung himself in the way and blocked the shot, but Rodallega’s follow-through clipped his thigh. A huge gash opened up, white muscle visible before the tissues were suffused with blood. Rooney’s leg looked for all the world like a sausage splitting in the pan.

Of course the injury was freakish. Of course the main cause was an unfortunate coincidence of angles and forces. And yet it was hard to shake the lingering thought that there was something very English about the gash: The doughy flesh sliced open. It was hard not to think that it wouldn’t have happened to Cristiano Ronaldo. It was hard not to look at the wound and wonder whether a fitter man, a sleeker man, a more toned man, might have gotten away with it.

When Ferguson suggested in his autobiography that Rooney had issues with his fitness, Rooney reacted angrily. This season, certainly, he has looked sharp. Without access to the data collated in training, it’s very hard to be sure, but in his autobiography, Rooney admits returning after the summer break needing to lose some weight. Both volumes are sanitized and self-justifying, but he talks about enjoying takeout food—he was on his way to pick up Chinese after watching his favorite soap opera when he proposed to Coleen on a garage forecourt—and mentions at least one summer when he probably drank more than he should have. At school he had such an obsession with sweets, he would cry until he was given them. There have been several incidents of his being pictured smoking, including the notorious episode, that came out amid the revelations of 2010, in which he paid a hotel staff member £200 to get him a pack of Marlboro Lights.

Nobody’s suggesting Rooney doesn’t have the right to fill his body with whatever he wants or that he isn’t fit enough to play football. But you wonder what he might have made of himself if he had Cristiano Ronaldo’s abstemiousness and obsessive drive for self-improvement. Nor is anybody saying that he has the same problems with diet, alcohol, and cigarettes as Gascoigne. But there is still something of Gascoigne about him in his impudence, his temper, and his body shape. As with Gascoigne (Gascoigne the player; Gascoigne now, tragically in thrall to his demons, is appallingly thin), part of Rooney’s appeal is his ordinariness. He is not a supertoned athlete: He has a body inclined to roundness; he’s what a fan could be if he happened to be really good at football. But could he have been more?

WEMBLEY STADIUM, LONDON

October 15 , 2013

They used to say Rooney wasn’t great in the air, but that changed in the 2009–10 season when he began to play up front by himself on a regular basis. The lift, the hang, the bullocking thrust of the neck: That year he began to look like the archetypal English center forward. And at Wembley, with halftime approaching and England—needing a win against Poland to qualify for the World Cup—beginning to grow frustrated, Rooney rose unmarked six yards out and glanced a Leighton Baines cross past Wojciech Szczęsny, a fitting climax to a half in which Rooney buzzed with energy and invention.

Rooney is 28, an age at which many players are at their peak, but he has been around so long, it feels as if this is the final phase of his career. Last season he scored 12 Premier League goals and assisted 11, which, although he was widely criticized as United won the title, made it his most effective season in terms of direct involvement in goals per minute on the pitch. When he was left off the United team for the Champions League tie at home against Real Madrid, it was widely interpreted as a sign that something was amiss behind the scenes, and sure enough, as Ferguson retired, he claimed Rooney had sought a move. Rooney denied it, but the saga rumbled on all summer.

In what has been an awkward season for United, Rooney’s form has been one of the few bright spots, and he was magnificent in the World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland. The old petulance is still there, though, as he showed by kicking out at Cardiff’s Jordon Mutch in November. So, too, is the refusal to accept responsibility. Despite the video evidence, he denied wrongdoing in the incident with Mutch. When we think back to Portugal and what it seemed Rooney would be, and we look at Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and wonder if, in different circumstances, he could have been their equal. Perhaps Euro 2004 inflated expectations unfairly. He has, after all, won five Premier League titles and a Champions League and was both the players’ and football writers’ Footballer of the Year in 2010. And there is always the possibility that in Brazil next year, he will deliver on the promise of Portugal a decade earlier.

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