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Hard to love you now, Wayne

October 23, 2010 5 comments

Wayne Rooney was always destined to be a legend.

Decorated with natural gifts beyond those of any Englishman for a generation, he was also a very English player, full of heart and endeavour: a man fans could be proud to love and to call their own. It is the combination of Rooney’s being better than all his England team mates and his fans’ perception of him as the committed, down-to-earth, people’s player, that made him their favourite as well as the team’s talisman.

The unseemly saga that unfolded this week is all the more depressing for that. Rooney, in collusion with a clever and determined agent no doubt, has behaved, at best, like an embarrassing, stroppy teenager, and, perhaps more realistically, like a graceless, conniving mercenary.  His actions have been a direct challenge to his employers at Manchester Utd, to his manager and his team mates. Yet he has been rewarded with a brand new 5-year contract, reportedly worth £160,000 a week.

Other than the emotional impact that revelations last month might still be having on Rooney and his family, the historical context of sleazy behaviour by a range of England players is not strictly relevant here. But it does point us to raise the question: how much are supporters supposed to put up with? How far from reality can these players ascend (descend) before we cease to see in them that which was so recognisable and appealing in the first place? Sport is made such a compelling spectacle in part by distilling and dramatising human endeavour. It is that which, lest we forget, leads supporters to part with ever-spiralling wads of hard-earned to pay the wages of its stars. But if our heroes can no longer be recognised as one of us, will we love them?

For we have loved Wayne Rooney. He was ‘crucial’ to our chances in the 2006 World Cup despite beginning the tournament with one leg, and he was equally crucial to our chances last summer. While he flopped, so did England. While he oozes skill, for many fans he also embodies what they love about football and about themselves: the honesty, the passion, the love for the game. The love heaped upon Rooney is clearly something which, at some time at least, mattered to Rooney. His outburst against England fans who booed the team’s World Cup draw with Algeria showed he found it difficult to deal with not being adored.

Setting aside the fact that Rooney has not played to the sparkling level that made his name for several months, let us remember that prior to this week’s elaborately constructed contractual negotiation, he was already being paid £90,000 a week by Man Utd. He has several lucrative endorsement deals and gets paid every time he plays for

"How wrong is the game?" Ian Holloway has been passionately outspoken on the issue

England. He owns a mansion in Cheshire. In short, he is not short of a few bob. Such a public demand for increased pay seems not just ungrateful, but both insensitive and undignified at a time when his club’s owners are in debt and his fans are asked to pay nearly £50 just to see a first round Carling Cup tie at home to Wolves. It also draws wider, sadder reflections on the significance of player power and the state of football today. Ian Holloway is surely right when he says “football should look at itself.”

If Rooney chooses to play audacious contractual hard ball to secure a wage rise from £90,000 a week to £160,000 a week, while of course accepting huge rewards for his various sponsorship deals (and having sold his wedding to OK magazine), he is eschewing emotion, honesty and passion for the game and cashing in on his assets; smartly making the most of his position. But, that being the case, can we any longer let him off the hook for his (various) transgressions on the grounds that he is just a naive boy who would play football for nothing if it meant he could do it every day?

There are some sportsmen whom fans admire, like Pete Sampras or Tiger Woods. There are some whom they love, like Andrew Flintoff, or, until recently at least, Wayne Rooney.

I think I was able to turn a blind eye to the World Cup flops, the fouls and the foul-mouthed rants. Even the hookers were being forgotten, although the cumulative impact of these might have been starting to tell. No doubt, once he regains form, I will continue to admire Wayne Rooney.

It’s just hard to love him now. To Manchester Utd and England supporters alike, Rooney has made his priorities very clear.

I hope he can live without the love.

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Categories: Football Tags: , ,

Higher education funding reform is emotional for its opponents and for the ‘guilty generation’ who feel compelled to enforce it

October 13, 2010 Leave a comment

As little as thirteen years ago, nobody paid a penny.

That’s why further increases to the cost of university education, proposed in the Browne Review, are so difficult for people to stomach.

Before 1998, generations of decent-brained, perhaps aspirational people had breezed into universities up and down the country, paying for nothing along the way. Now these people are telling students to cough up for it, and they know how bad that looks.

Just as it is now mountainously daunting for young professionals to know they will work into their seventies in order to support their innumerable aged, so it is for young students to take on the burden of around £40,000 of debt for the privilege of degree study.

The extraordinary good fortune of the baby boom generation, who were the key beneficiaries of free access to higher education (along with several other pertinent points) is detailed expertly by David Willetts – now universities minister – in his book, The Pinch.

It is not for recent or future generations of students to resent their forebears for being so fortunate. But at a certain point it became clear that it wouldn’t be possible to sustain higher education without reform of the generous grants system – no matter how ingrained were its principles in the consciences of decision makers.

These decision makers, and their commentators, the opinion-makers, are the people who benefited from a free university education. When the Commons was threatening to revolt against Blair’s top-up fees bill in 2004, those men and women were acting according to something visceral and something elemental within them. To them, free university education had been a norm, a birthright, a part of their identity.  To move the country yet further away from it was, and remains, heartbreaking.

So the governing generation feel extremely guilty. Their quandary is rather like the life of Vince Cable in the current coalition: desperately not wanting to do something out of long-held belief and principle, but feeling that there is no choice but to do it, for to not do it would be to deny the problem. Meanwhile everyone else is shocked, concerned or angry. Opposition to, and anguish over increases in the cost of university is not only based on a practical assessment of the impending strife. It is also a complex emotional reaction.

The process of review and outrage and debate and outrage is not just a recognition that going to university now requires an eye-watering financial commitment. It is also part of a realisation about the extent to which a generation’s worth of certainties, securities, even sensibilities, are dying.

Categories: Politics