Sorry still the hardest word as Rooney and fans move on
“I understand I made a mistake. When I look at it now how wrong was I?” Rooney told the Guardian in a revealing interview on Wednesday. The recalcitrant Manchester United striker was surprisingly open in the Veltins Arena mixed zone, again stopping short of uttering the S-word but admitting, for the first time, that he made a huge error during what is now being dubbed the ‘October Revolution’.
Since questioning United’s ambition in October Rooney has apologised, with some disingenuity, if fans believed he had not previously said sorry. He hadn’t and in fact, semantically speaking, hasn’t. Later, the striker then went on to express his regret over the affair before this week opening up for the first time. With United heading the Premier League and all but in the European Cup final the 25-year-old former Evertonian would have lost much had he departed for Manchester City in January.
Rooney’s actions, whether driven by his agent Paul Stretford as a negotiating tactic, or tempered in genuine belief, has proven hugely divisive though. Indeed, around 70 per cent of supporters inputting to a United Rant poll in October said Rooney should never play for the club again. How fickle fans are though, with supporters traveling to western Germany loudly singing the player’s name, followed by a rousing chorus of ‘White Pele’.
“I admitted that and I apologised for that and I have wanted to try and prove myself again to the Manchester United fans,” added Rooney, who has now scored 13 goals since the turn of the year.
“I feel I am doing that now. I am 100 per cent committed to this club. It was a long time ago now and hopefully now I am helping this team be successful. It would be a great end to the season with a Champions League final and to win the League.”
Commitment in football is, of course, a very flexible phenomenon. In truth while fans demand loyalty from players, they no longer expect it. In this, Rooney is no different to most players who have passed through Old Trafford’s gates. Easy come, easy go. United is, after all, a cynical club and only the very best are remembered with affection.
Yet the Scouser suffers poor comparison with one-club colleagues Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, whose loyalty to the United cause never wavered. Scholes, famously, hasn’t employed an agent during contract negotiations with the club, let alone hold United to ransom.
Rooney though is smart enough to understand that performances on the pitch, above all, have brought the supporters round. The 25-year-old is not and never will be ‘one of us’, a fan, and those attending United matches will do well to remember it in the future.
In the meantime, Rooney’s transformation from last season’s number nine to this year’s 10 is wholehearted; a well overdue tactical adjustment from Sir Alex Ferguson. The move has brought both the best out of Rooney and enabled the player to enjoy football again. Arguably, for the first time in more than a year, Rooney is able to perform close to his peak without a burning anger.
“Obviously, it’s been a lot different in the second half of the season compared to the first,” added Rooney pertinently.
“I am a lot happier in my life and happier with the way I’m playing, it’s like I’ve been settling down again. I’m very grateful to the fans for supporting me through it and I’m delighted with my form again. I hope I am proving myself through my performances.”
Coupled with the player’s return to form, Rooney is now engaging directly with supporters through Twitter, although the Croxteth-born star is hardly erudite like his colleague Rio Ferdinand. Reportedly advised against joining the site by Stretford, but supported by his wife and Ferdinand, Rooney has engaged in topics as varied as the Royal wedding, his love of Disney’s the Lion King and phone hacking.
Indeed, Rooney now has more than 300,000 followers compared to Ferdinand’s 800,000. While, Ferdinand is naturally gifted when it comes to public relations, Rooney’s global reach is infinitely greater. Witness Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2.6 million followers of his banal, PR driven account.
The risk, of course, with Rooney is that in moments of frustration the far-from-eloquent Rooney will spawn a thousand headlines with an ill thought out comment. In time the media will grow tired of its obsession with Twitter, but for the moment whole articles are written, often with misleading headlines, on the simplest of tweets. Ferdinand’s justifiable criticism of the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Barcelona is a case in point, where the United defender discussed repeated diving in the match. Ferdinand did not “slam” the Spanish giants, nor accuse anybody of cheating, not that the newspapers are prepared to print the truth and not the myth.
In the meantime, Rooney is central to United’s success or failure during the final weeks of the season. United has at most six games – four in the Premier League, two in Europe – and the Scouser will certainly make up for months of drama should he fire the club to an unlikely double.
“I am not surprised at what Wayne is doing,” said the legendary Giggs on Wednesday. “The top players perform when the trophies are about to be handed out. They produce moments of inspiration when it matters.”
If that is the parameter for greatness, now is surely the time for Rooney to prove himself; making up for errors of the past.