The accusation that Wayne Rooney, Manchester United’s £27 million striker, used a prostitute have remained uncontested and the media spotlight shows little sign of dimming. Yet aside from journalists whose job it is to report on the country’s best, Rooney has also been on the end of criticism from those in the game.
That the player’s form has hit rock bottom hardly helps the former Evertonian’s cause of course, opening the door for cheap taunts from rival fans, journalists and pundits alike. While it is of no surprise that the strength of criticism within media circles has been so vociferous – the moral absolutism of the British tabloids holds no bounds – those within the game now also feel compelled to comment.
Indeed, this week ex-professionals Kevin Keegan and Stan Collymore weighed in on the debate, using Rooney as a platform for comments that reek of self-serving hypocrisy. This comes after manager Sir Alex Ferguson finally admitted that the media pressure is affecting Rooney’s performances on the pitch.
Keegan’s outspoken attack was unusual for the man who has walked away from almost every job he has ever held, but also reflective of many voices within the game. The former Newcastle United manager argues that Rooney has no right to privacy if he is prepared to sell intrusion into his life in other spheres.
“You can’t have all the contracts and sell your wedding to magazines and things like this and suddenly say, ‘That’s the tap I want to turn on, but we want to turn the other one off,’” Keegan told ESPN after United’s draw with Bolton Wanderers last weekend.
“But it’s just one tap and I know from when I played that, if you are advertising boots and all these things, you have to go and make appearances. The one thing I would say is keep your home and your family out of it and just take your endorsements if that’s what you want to do.”
To many supporters it’s an argument that rings true, although one wonders where the pundits’ moral certainty comes from. The sale of Rooney’s wedding to OK magazine, for example, increased the media interest in the player’s life. Indeed, had Rooney eschewed many aspects of the celebrity lifestyle to which he is now accustomed media interest in his life may well be less intense.
This, however, is not the same as permitting carte-blanche media intrusion. Few, if any, in the media have articulated a solid argument that player’s commercial interests also remove the media’s moral obligation to respect privacy. Collymore and Keegan, however, seem to believe this is the case.
It is, of course, an extension of the debate that flared up when Rooney’s indiscretions first emerged: should fans, and in turn the media, care how Rooney behaves? It’s a very risky game of moral absolutism that supporters and the media do not play with friends, family and colleagues outside the game.
Meanwhile others echo Keegan’s belief that Rooney’s “confidence is shot,” with Collymore also arguing that the media intrusion is the player’s own fault.
Collymore, who beat up his then girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson in a Paris bar during the 2002 World Cup, says that supporters have already seen the best of Rooney as a result. The former Liverpool player argues that the player’s dip in form is now permanent because of the media pressure he is now under; perhaps mirroring Collymore’s own ignominious descent into mediocrity.
“We might have seen the best of Wayne Rooney – mentally now he’s going through lots of torment. We know that he’s brought it upon himself,” Collymore told talkSPORT radio, on which he recently called Ryan Giggs a cheat.
“The issue is if you sell your wedding you are saying to people ‘I am happy for my daughter, my son, my mum to be there in the paper’. So you can’t then say, when things are going wrong, particularly if you put yourself in schtuck, ‘stop at the front door’.
“Whatever goes on with him and his wife it will be sorted out in the wash in however many months or years but the mental impact (means) every time you go out you’re not just justifying your footballing ability but you’re justifying lots of other things.”
It’s the old argument that footballers, because they are famous, must behave in a way we do not expect of others in society. Of course, the other way to view that statement is simple justification for old-fashioned media voyeurism and salacious gossip.
Either way, the tap of criticism pundits such as Keegan and Collymore have opened, now flows freely.