WITHOUT doubt Wayne Rooney’s rant into the TV cameras after scoring his match-winning hat-trick at Upton Park was a big mistake. And he deserves to be punished. The Football Association had no option other than a suspension. But there is another aspect of this story that needs to be aired.
Rooney, everyone’s footballer of the year last season when he was universally paraded as England’s finest, has been subjected to levels of criticism from the media since last summer’s World Cup that have been destructive and deliberately provocative.
To put it bluntly the media are guilty of baiting the Manchester United star – and must share the blame for bringing the game into disrepute. There is an unsavoury cynicism in the way all sections of the media revel in building up sporting stars and then take great pleasure in knocking them down. It has been that way ever since George Best was hounded all the way to his self-destruction.
It is true that Best’s Old Trafford team-mate Sir Bobby Charlton would never have dreamed of any inappropriate behaviour when he scored a goal, or on any other occasion. England’s 1966 World Cup winner is a true gentleman who was never even booked or sent off, a feat that is almost impossible to comprehend in the modern era.
Charlton was the ultimate role model from a by-gone era when there was no malice in football.
I do not doubt that Sir Bobby would have stood tall above all the abuse that footballers are subjected to if he was playing these days. Yet that does not negate my argument. These are different times. Sir Bobby was a saint in the world of football greats the likes of which only United’s current role-model Ryan Giggs has remotely come close to emulating.
The truth is the game has changed beyond all recognition, along with the whole atmosphere that surrounds it. The appreciation of what was once called the beautiful game with genuine pride has been replaced by the negativity of the critical fans who queue up to fuel the media’s craving for confrontation on radio phone-ins.
The media have turned their pursuit of football heroes to new levels of intrusion, turning character assassinations into a public sport and whipping up an air of malice and hatred among rival fans that is unhealthy for the game and society at large.
Eric Cantona was only half-joking when he jests about the satisfaction he experienced when he lashed out at an abusive fan with his famous kung-fu kick at Selhurst Park back in the 90s.
The vile abuse dished out by fans grows worse every year and it is the media’s unrelenting desire to stoke up the atmosphere of confrontation and criticism that makes it forever worse.
Didier Drogba famously snapped when Chelsea were beaten in the 2008 Champions League Final by Manchester United and directed a tirade of abuse into a TV camera. The difference on that occasion was that he was criticising the integrity of the match officials. But there is no escape from the glare of the media and the blame culture that pollutes our society when things go wrong.
What do the public expect when the media puts these sporting stars onto a pedestal, then takes great pleasure in attempting to knock them off their perch, baiting them at every twist and turn and then putting a TV camera in their face when passions are at fever pitch.
As I said at the start Rooney’s rant was wrong – and rightly or wrongly Manchester United will be handicapped by his enforced absence. But do not make the mistake of thinking the problem is solved by the punishment dished out.
The only winners are the media who thrive on the feeding frenzy created by the never ending negative headlines.