The red mist, they say, descended before Wayne Rooney kicked out at Miodrag Dzudovic during’s England’s 2-2 draw in Montenegro on Friday night. The draw ensured Fabio Capello’s side qualified for Euro 2012 but Saturday’s headlines were focused firmly on Rooney after the red card, which ensures the Manchester United striker will miss the start of the tournament, to be held in Poland and Ukraine next summer. After all the nation’s writers are well versed in the cod psychology of post-dismissal analysis: it followed Rooney’s previous red in England colours, received against Portugal at World Cup 2006.
The debate, for want of a far better word, will continue after Saturday’s incident. Very little of it will be about the red itself, which goalkeeper Joe Hart described as the “most pathetic” dismissal he had seen. In truth referee Wolfgang Stark had little choice but to issue red after Rooney’s kick at Dzudovic, with the player’s frustration at losing out on a routine challenge converted into violence not for the first time in the 25-year-old’s career.
Plus ça change. Rooney is what he is.
The red is, of course, manna from heaven for the nation’s hacks though, who will now be able to continue the Rooney debate into the tournament itself, with the United striker likely to miss at least one group match after the dismissal. Further suspension depends on UEFA’s interpretation of the 73rd minute incident.
Capello made little attempt to defend his star player, although the Italian was quick to dismiss any notion that dropping the player was ever in the picture prior to the game. After all Rooney’s father and uncle were arrested in the past week on suspicion of being involved in a betting scam.
“It’s a red card,” admitted coach Capello.
“You can’t defend that. I’m not happy, absolutely. I spoke with him. He made a silly mistake and he said: ‘Yes, sorry.’ More than that, I can’t do. He made a silly mistake when he kicked the opponent and he will now not be able to play the first game in the Euros. He was not happy because he missed some control and some passes. For this reason, I think he reacted. I can’t enter into the head of Wayne Rooney when he plays. I can speak before. But the reaction of the players, you cannot understand during the game, why things happen. Not just Rooney.”
The player’s dismissal is a bonus for United though with Rooney not only missing games at Euro 2012 but with Capello likely to experiment during England’s friendly matches before the tournament. The less Rooney plays during spring 2012 international fixtures, the fresher the striker will be for United’s crucial Premier and Champions league games towards the season’s end.
“He’s a really important player with a lot of experience, and he’s played really important games,” added Capello.
“But he’s made a silly mistake. We will find a solution to play without him. We will try something in the next games, the friendlies that we play, to prepare for the future.”
In the meantime the cliched analysis will continue as journalists the nation over roll out the dictionary of pithy football-speak. Rooney was “immature” or “angry”; it was perhaps the “red mist” or just that old favourite, “petulance.” Pundits will proclaim the striker as a “risk” for Capello at Euro 2012 and some, several perhaps, will urge Capello to drop United’s in-form forward from the squad altogether.
Indeed, former England full-back Gary Neville is right when he points to the distraction Rooney’s card brings from an average England side that has little hope of winning the tournament itself.
“The most disappointing thing about his red card is that it distracts from the major issue,” Neville told the Mail on Sunday.
“With England, we’re always looking for an excuse; we’re always caught up in the minor rather than the major. The real issue is that the spine of the team is not good enough, as it stands, to take on Spain, Italy, France or Germany at Euro 2012.”
Should Rooney face Spain at Wembley this coming November he will enter the field, no doubt, to the sound of jeers from the north London crowd. England fans – very few of which hail from the red side of Manchester – have rarely taken to United’s players in any case. The feeling is mutual, with few Reds having forgotten the boos that greeted United’s players during the 1990s, or the effigy of David Beckham hung high following the midfielder’s dismissal at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Yet much of this supporter anger is fuelled by a media so keen to scandalise. Lionised for his wonderful domestic form, so many hacks have now jumped on the opportunity to criticise. “An Idiot Abroad,” “Roonatic” and “Roo Fool!” were just three of the less polite headlines to appear in Saturday’s papers. Many more will follow in the weeks and months to come.
Rooney’s England red is unlikely to concern too many United supporters. After all, there is perhaps some irony that media or England fan ire towards the striker may well strengthen United supporters’ relationship with the 25-year-old. While Rooney is a hero on the pitch at Old Trafford the player’s ‘October Revolution’ reminded many supporters that players are little more than employees of the club after the best deal.
But United fans are more loyal than most. Certainly than those that support the national team. In that Rooney will receive a huge reception the next time he turns out at Old Trafford, especially if the negative headlines continue.