Friday, 13 June 2014


By Andy Ritchie

SYMPATHY costs nothing but, for some strange reason - no doubt associated with my crazy career - I’m never too liberal with it.

So today’s question is: do I feel sorry for Wayne Rooney? Or, more accurately: do I feel sorry for multi-millionaire Wayne Rooney?

Well, here’s one straight from the Surprise, Surprise catalogue. Yes, I do.

Hey, the World Cup is off and running and people can hopefully concentrate on the football rather than the urban protests that have provided an uncertain backdrop in the long run-up.

But I fear all cannot be well on Rooney’s doorstep. It seems open season has been declared on him. He’s been getting it in the ear from Gary Lineker, Paul Scholes (his old colleague at Manchester United) and, soon, is due a performance assessment of a different nature from a former prostitute.

If the producers of Big Brother have their way, Helen Wood will recall his alleged three-in-a-bed sex exploits.

Poor lad: he’s got nothing going for him, has he? He’s got £250,000 a week and he doesn’t go without, if you know what I mean. What else is there in life?

Well, for starters, there is this World Cup in Brazil. It’s an important one for Rooney. To employ highwayman-speak, he’s got to stand and deliver. Whatever, he goes into action against Italy with the weight of the world balanced on his shoulders.

Forget Lineker and Wood. I reckon Scholes, the guy who for years worked and played beside the Liverpudlian in Manchester United colours, has been successful in inserting a shaft of doubt in Rooney’s mind by saying that his best days may be behind him.

So, has this former wonder kid, at 28, gone past his sell-by date at a time when he should be uprooting forests of football trees?

Has he fulfilled his potential? I think he has. He’s been lurking about our game for 12 years now since making his professional debut for Everton aged just 16. He’s scored a multitude of goals and stood the test of Premier League durability: he’s made great donations to the cause of Man Utd, and also been England’s best player for the last ten years.

You could comfortably argue that he’s not an undisputed genius like Lionel Messi. There have always been question marks hovering over his head - the way he lived his life, his weight, his hairstyle!

Look, we would have been raving about him probably had he moved to Real Madrid or Barcelona. Maybe his career would have gone in a different and more positive direction.

But the fact is that he’s stayed around his homeland for so long; we tend to become a bit bored with players like him when that happens and begin to stick pins in effigies. That’s what has happened here.

Possessing the neck of a bulldog, he’s got issues with weight - he’s the type who goes out of condition very quickly - and he probably won’t make old bones as a footballer. I can’t see him performing at any level at 35.

You might say it’s over the top to say he’s over the hill. But Scholes is close enough to the situation to put a decent handle on it. Indeed, he’s probably not a million miles from being right, because Rooney’s had all those tough years. And there’s only so long you can do that.

As for the Scholes issue, he’s spent all his career without a good word to say to the media - and now he can’t stop talking.

I wouldn’t think that his dig was intended as a spur. I think it was somewhere between telling the truth and - call me an old cynic - him doing something controversial for his Paddy Power app line.

I imagine he’s been coaxed into doing this; someone’s said: “We don’t want any of that drivel you get in the newspapers: we want something that’s got a bit more meat on the bone. You’ll never have a media career unless you start shouting out.”

So, Scholes has shouted for England. The thing is he has another career - as a coach at Manchester United. I’d vote for the job of fly on the wall when pre-season training starts at Carrington. Scholes versus Rooney: a catch weight contest.

Has Rooney been affected by what’s been said? I’d say he has, considering his revelation that they never been close and never had each other’s telephone numbers. If it wasn’t affecting him, he should have said nothing. It seems it’s been preying on his mind.

I would seriously doubt whether he will be able to banish this cloud of negativity that has enveloped him. His performances last season were okay in a bad United team: I feel his performances will be likewise in an ordinary England team.

Many people think he’ll have a great World Cup to make up for all the previous disappointments, but I can’t see it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I tend to sway towards the Scholes contention. He's not the player of a couple of seasons ago when he was hot to trot and the name on everyone’s lips.

Scholes, remember, sees him in training, knows what his condition is like. And that has always been a worry - Alex Ferguson has referred to it in the past. I can remember reading that he could lose his physical condition in a fortnight.

Mind you, when all is said and done, I don’t think England will survive their section. As I say, I bracket them in the 'B' division. And, if they come home early, the fans will need to blame somebody. I imagine Wayne would be a prime target should that happen.

Deep down, I hope he proves us all wrong and has a wonderful World Cup. If not, he may need any sympathy that’s out there. Mine included.