Somewhere else

“Nobody in football gives a monkey’s as long as he’s winning on the pitch. He could be a mass murderer as long as he’s scoring goals.”
Max Clifford on Wayne Rooney

One thing I should make clear before I go any further is that Wayne Rooney is definitely not a mass murderer. But Clifford’s comment is still pretty depressing, even if it does sound suspiciously like one of the wackier plotlines from Roy Of The Rovers.

Blackie Gray: Roy, I think the serial killer is one of our players!
Roy Race: But who? Surely not . . . not Kenny ‘Killer’ MacDonald?
(Door to manager’s office bursts open. McDonald enters, brandishing a gun.)
McDonald: That’s right, Roy – it’s me! And guess who my next victim is going to be?
(To be continued…)

I’d like to think that if a footballer was revealed to be a mass murderer, the fans of his team would at least have the decency to take umbrage about it, rather than respond with a shrug of the shoulders and a comment of: “Well, old Chopper Nobbins may have bumped off half the village, but he scored an excellent goal against Gubbington Rovers the other week, and you certainly can’t fault his workrate.”

It’s tempting to wonder, though, if Clifford’s got a point. Is there anything a footballer could do that is so repugnant that his own fans would demand his head on a platter (metaphorically speaking, I think) even if he scored the winning goal against their neighbours the following week? Apart from demand a transfer, that is.

The great thing about football is that it offers us fans an escape from the mundane, everyday nature of our lives. (Well, my life, anyway. Yours might be thrill a minute, for all I know. If it is, keep it to yourself – I’m not interested.) The drawback is that, as a result, the sport can sometimes exist in a completely separate moral universe.

It’s a bit like rock music. We forgive our heroes behaving appallingly if they produce great songs. (Because, of course, you can only turn out a timeless three-minute classic if you’ve hoovered up vast quantities of nose flour and hurled a television out of a window first. Again, I should make it clear that Rooney has done none of those things. In fact, I’m pretty certain he’s never written a song in his life.)

And so I think all Clifford has really done is rephrase – in a typically headline-grabbing style – the point that is made over and over again whenever a footballer strays into morally dubious territory: In football, your popularity depends solely on you being good at your job. You don’t have to be likeable. You just have to be successful.

Whether Rooney will find that of any comfort in the face of allegations in the News Of The World and the Sunday Mirror that he slept with a prostitute while his wife was pregnant, only he will know.

He has been able to count on the support of Fabio Capello, who stated today that the striker will play against Switzerland tomorrow night. There will, perhaps, be comparisons with John Terry, who lost the England captaincy after becoming embroiled in a sex scandal. But it should be pointed out that Terry, like Rooney, kept his place in the team.

Both were considered valuable enough to play despite the off-field headlines that surrounded them. And the truth is this: However difficult Rooney may feel life is right now, it will get a whole lot worse if his performances on the pitch suffer. Max Clifford will tell him that for nothing.

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