Wayne Rooney’s recent indiscretions, where the striker reportedly slept with a £1200-a-night call girl, make uncomfortable reading for Manchester United fans wishing their hero to be a role model and a star player. Indeed, in this age of celebrity and moralising tabloids, Rooney’s infidelity is sure to keep him on the front pages for weeks.
The question is should supporters be concerned about the moral implications of a player’s actions any more than their performances on the pitch? After all, one of the greatest complaints from modern-day footballers is the supposed invasion of privacy by the tabloids into their lives outside of the training ground and matchdays.
It’s a question that Chelsea supporters recently faced after John Terry had an affair with the former girlfriend of Wayne Bridge in a high profile case. The Chelsea player faced weeks of media scrutiny, lost his role as England’s captain and has rarely regained form for club or country since.
Rooney’s case is neither proven – at least until the player makes an admission – nor raises the same questions as the Terry affair. But United supporters will face a similar choice; cast aside the player’s public humiliation and focus solely on ‘supporting the shirt’, or admit that overpaid footballers are not the heroes fans want them to be.
The question is perhaps even more taxing for the truth about so many of the highly paid, cosseted young men in professional football. After all Rooney’s behaviour is not vastly different from that of Anderson, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, who employed legions of prostitutes in the pursuit of entertainment. Nor Terry in pursuit of his ex-teammates former lover.
In an age where drugs and alcohol are beyond the pale for professional athletes, sex is the new rock and roll.
In these cases supporters frequently ignore the game of moral absolutes that the nation’s tabloids have mastered. Indeed, Chelsea supporters engaged in a Terry love-in that almost matched the vitriol they meted out for his victim, Bridge. It’s almost inconceivable that United fans will not act in much the same way by showering Rooney with support.
By contrast football fans the length of the country will enjoy today’s – multiple – tabloid exclusives, aping the red tops’ moral superiority. Rooney’s infidelity, after all, is the disgraceful epitome of high-earning footballers, who are both stupid and arrogant beyond belief. They surely deserve whatever they get?
It matters little whether the allegations in the News of the World, Sunday Mirror and then – some hours later – every media outlet on the planet are actually true. There is no evidence presented bar the prostitute, Jenny Thompson’s, testimony. In these cases, print becomes truth and vice versa.
After all Rooney has form according to the tabloids, sleeping with hookers at aged 16, including Auld Slapper the 48-year-old Liverpool grandmother. The most in-depth analysis of this period concludes this story was almost certainly not true. Today, the Daily Mail claimed Rooney had “admitted” to this peculiar case of MILF-hunting. Wish fulfilment, perhaps.
Thompson’s scripted interviews today are merely the controlled content output of an industry that desires the salacious above all, while still claiming to guide the ethical compass. The papers had little trouble following up the moralistic tone with a tits-n-ass photoshoot, allowing Thompson to titillate as well as entertain.
Let’s just assume the word irony has been routinely scrubbed from dictionary corner at red top towers.
For the foreseeable future United fans must make the same misguided choice. Is it Rooney, the love rat, cheating on his innocent pregnant wife, touched by a sense of infallibility that is born of almost unbelievable wealth? Or perhaps, by contrast, it’s the fault of the seedy, exploitative, tabloid newspapers, seeking website hits and paper sales.
Truth be damned; it’s all that’s fit to print.
Perhaps the best route is something different. Discover for a moment an epiphany. Admit now that rich and talented though they may be, our nation’s footballers are no different from the cheating, lying, hedonistic, self-obsessed young men that inhabit this very land.
That includes you tabloid newspaper editors, United fans, opposition supporters and curious bystanders.
You’ll feel better for it.