Wayne Rooney’s sending off on Friday night was a lot of things; petulant, dimwitted, irresponsible, out of control – but it was not out of character. Off the pitch Rooney may appear a shy and humble man but his arrogant petulance on it has already blotted his copybook so many times that his reputation as one of the best of his generation may be a footnote to his violent temperament. It is clear that Alex Ferguson cannot reign in his self-destructive tendencies conclusively, Fabio Capello shows little of sign of wanting too and the man himself looks least of all determined to let his talent dictate his direction.
With England stuck in second gear against a second string Montenegrin team, Rooney had only to hold up the ball and use the space that was beginning to appear in Montenegro’s back lines. A Champion’s League stalwart and premier league champion, Rooney was up against Miodrag Dzudovic, a Russian league ham and egger who stuck tight to the Manchester United man all night – nothing Rooney is not used to dealing with every week in the premier league. So when Rooney miscontrolled a pass and it bounced to Dzudovic, one would expect the leading light of English football to get on with his job and see out the remaining 15 minutes of a game that would guarantee qualification to the Euros.
Instead, in an act of instinctive frustration, or perhaps frustrated instinct, Rooney feebly kicked out at the defender and now faces up to a three game ban. For those familiar with England’s great talent this did not come as a surprise, his has regularly thrown temper tantrums that would shame a toddler at even the most minor slight against him. Capello said after the match that it was “silly mistake” but you get the sense that the Italian’s patience is not to be tested again as this “silly mistake” may seriously disrupt England’s preparations for Poland and Ukraine.
Capello’s qualification campaign has not been marked for it’s consistency or settled nature but the last few games seemed to suggest he would favour a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney orchestrating the attacking play, supporting another striker and the wingers. Even if that were not to be the case, and with the changing nature of Capello’s approach it is never clear how England will lineout from game to game but what is clear is that that Rooney was key.
It is difficult to imagine the Italian trusting two of Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Wellbeck leading the line or dropping Jack Wilshire into the hole. Capello is not a manager given easily to trust but the circumstances necessitated it and the Italian trusted Rooney to be the focal if his terse attacking system.
Rooney is after all one of the best players of his generation and England will always look weaker without him but Capello, like Trapaottoni, is not afraid to give the system precedent over the personnel. If England find a rhythm before Rooney’s return at the Euros, the Manchester United man could find himself emerging to a very different landscape, something Cappello is keen to remind him: “I need to find the solution for the first game, or two games, that Rooney will not play and if we find that solution, he needs to work to return to the first team.”
Capello is now looking for a system which does not require Rooney. If it works, and that’s a big if, Rooney may have thrown away his chance of making a real impact at the Euros in the most pointless manner.
UEFA will decide whether Rooney is to receive a two or three match suspension on Thursday, but Capello has already said that he will not play Rooney in the friendly against Spain as he sets about building a reliable attack without his best attacker. Rooney, says Capello, must now prepare for the Euros on diminished terms. Coming off the bench in the warm ups where previously he would have started and getting less time as the tournament gets closer.
This season at first promised a new era for Rooney, with a new haircut marking a new dawn, at the head of Manchester United’s rampaging young attack he started to display the intelligence that his top flight education has given him. He had shown a level of confidence and verve that Old Trafford has missed since Ronaldo’s pomp but for keen observers of the striker it was always going to be a question of when, not if, his temper would get the better of him again. This is a man after all, that celebrated a hat trick last year by aggressively swearing at a TV camera, only weeks after getting off the hook for elbowing James McCarthy for no reason.
If his indiscretions came only in pivotal moments at high stakes, such as the stamp on Carvallho in the World Cup, they could perhaps be dismissed as the actions of an overly pumped-up competitor. But Rooney has lost control so many times and in such a variety of atmospheres that his ability to contribute as a senior team player must be called in to question, even if his footballing ability means that England can not afford to.
Confidence and form are very delicate things at major tournaments, especially where England are concerned, so Rooney’s inevitable return to the line-up is sure to disrupt. After a couple of years struggling to find his true form Rooney appeared to have finally accepted the responsibility that comes with his talent, Friday’s selfishness put to bed any suggestion that he will ever fully contribute to a team in the manner his talent allows.
New hair, same old harebrain.