There is perhaps little surprise in a tale that pits an uneducated, naïve 16-year-old Wayne Rooney against manipulative and greedy agents. Convinced that the Everton teenager would become one of the hottest properties in world football, a legion of those on the make and on the take descended on the teenage star in search of a tidy profit.
Quite how far Rooney’s world is wrapped in the seedy, greedy and criminal element of Liverpool’s underworld is exposed in BBC investigative journalist John Sweeney’s controversial but thoroughly accessible new hardback Rooney’s Gold, published by BiteBack.
The book, delayed by three years and then withdrawn from the shelves by WH Smith amid much legal wrangling, serves as a prescient tale of modern football – a world in which money, above everything else, permeates to its rotten core.
“The life and times of Wayne Rooney make, perhaps, the dysfunctional fairy story of our times,” writes Sweeney, who recently led the BBC Panorama investigation into the Glazers’ financial ill-health.
“Beauty meets the beast meets Alien v. Predator meets Cinderella-in-Football-Boots, not forgetting the Curse of the Black Thong.”
Some of the stories recounted by Sweeney have been flashed across the tabloids. Most famously when the young star was caught in a tabloid exposé of his predilection for cheap prostitutes in Liverpool’s low-rent brothels.
That the footballer’s first sexual experience came with a prostitute is now no secret nor surprise; it is the method of choice for 20 per cent of Britons’ young men. Not often though is the taste quite so honed as Rooney’s apparent desire for PVC-clad grandmothers. The story that spurned a thousand terrace songs and a vindictive court case is one that Sweeney doubts.
Quite how far the criminal elements in Rooney’s world were prepared to exploit the striker’s nocturnal habits is staggering though, with the teenager risking more than a sullied reputation at the hands of Britain’s red tops.
Driven by his agent, the now thoroughly discredited Paul Stretford, Rooney has largely escaped from a world inhabited by murderous drug dealers and psychopathic killers, pimps, lawyers and exploitative tabloid journalists, to lift himself and family out of poverty and make millions from the game and those who associate with it.
Much of the credit is given to the player’s tight-knit, if ill-educated, family and the devoted Coleen, as well as the fatherly Sir Alex Ferguson. In the end Rooney has become the leading English player of his generation, and on the cusp of joining the world greats in an exclusive group. Fitness, form and a poor England team aside, that is.
Indeed, those attempting to halt publication, frightening one of the country’s leading bookshops into withdrawing the title, need have worried little for Rooney’s reputation. The Manchester United striker is foul-mouthed, ill-tempered and is unlikely to receive an invitation to Mensa any-time soon. What’s new?
Rooney, the devoted and loving family man, comes through character largely unscathed.
Sweeny does not aim to deconstruct Rooney – the gutter press has successfully achieved that – but Wayne and Coleen cannot emerge without criticism. Indeed, Sweeney chastises the couple for following a typical path to stardom – exploit the tabloids to earn millions, airbrush lives into a picture of perfect wedded bliss and then complain of media invasion of their privacy.
Hypocrisy is such a common bedfellow for so many Premier League footballers that Rooney was unlikely to be absolved of the charge.
“Perhaps more than any other pantomime nonsense from the beginning of the twenty-first century, it shines a light on our moronic celebrity culture,” concludes Sweeney.
“He and his circle often appear to have been the victim of creatures that creep on the face of the earth – hedge-fund managers, whores, newspaper barons, thugs, reporters, gangsters – in no easy order of virtue.
“That’s not his fault, either.”
This is after all a tale of our times – where money is king and Rooney’s pot of gold is freely available to exploit.