By now, you’ll probably have seen the footage of Wayne Rooney being hit flush in the face by former team-mate Phil Bardsley, leaving him lying prostrate and unconscious on his kitchen floor. The usual furore of opinion and debate has followed – does such behaviour make him a bad role model? Is he bringing the game into disrepute? Or are these, in fact, pointless and irrelevant arguments.
The footage of the incident, though grainy and of poor quality, is unmistakably Rooney. In many ways, its no different to the millions of ‘fail’ videos that pervade the internet in the modern age. It shows two young guys messing about at home, having a laugh and having (initially) harmless fun.
The reason it has received such widespread coverage is obvious – Rooney’s high profile both in the general media and in the modern game. The fact that the publication who made the video public is of more-than-questionable moral standing is a debate for another time but what can’t be denied is that the video has sparked a debate we’ve all seen before around the role of footballers as upholders of high morals in today’s society.
Such debates have been sparked in the past. Famous, or infamous, incidents that spring to mind include the alleged shooting incident involving Ashley Cole and then 21 year-old Tom Cowan at Chelsea’s training ground in 2011. There’s the high profile affairs involving Ryan Giggs, John Terry and innocent party Wayne Bridge. And then, of course, we have the multitude of incidents which have kept the race debate burning, with both John Terry and Luis Suarez having served bans after being found guilty of using racist language on separate occasions involving Anton Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, respectively.
There is, however, a need to tread carefully when considering such events. Rooney’s knockout has provoked some negative reaction from those always willing to lambast the lifestyle of the modern footballer. One Twitter user responded to a tweet by Gary Lineker on the issue, stating that it was ‘lots of people’s business’ what Wayne Rooney does in the privacy of his own home when he earns £300K a week.
And here’s where I begin to have a problem with the way this incident has been negatively covered in some quarters. There is a clear distinction between this particular event and those alluded to earlier. With Terry and Suarez, there’s no doubt that the race incidents should be treated with appropriate contempt. There’s no place in society for such behaviour – but looking at it purely in the footballing sphere, it was appropriate to analyze it in the context of footballers as role models. These were on-the-pitch incidents, where such actions are part of the game and, therefore, subject to scrutiny within those parameters. Even in the case of Giggs, there is an argument that his behaviour was somewhat public in nature and, therefore, left him open to derision in the same context. That, of course, is an argument left open to debate and not necessarily one I agree with personally.
Where the punching incident involving Rooney differs greatly is that this was footage of a man in the privacy of his own home, relaxing and enjoying time with people he should be able to trust. We’ve all, I’m sure, done silly, dangerous or regrettable things we would not wish to be published for the consumption of the general public. The difference is that we are afforded that privacy. Rooney, in this instance, has not been.
Rooney is not without blemish on his record, of course. He’s made a number of high profile gaffes that have left him open to criticism. But, again, those incidents were of a more public nature and, as such, should be treated differently to the knockout. How Rooney feels himself, we can only guess. We can continue to criticize the newspaper involved but more key to the issue, perhaps, is the fact that Rooney’s confidence has been broken. You don’t spend time messing around in the kitchen of a multi-millionaire footballer in that way unless you’re part of his trusted circle. Someone in that circle has abused that trust and has used the footage gained for their own benefit. Of course, any financial gain for any party involved cannot be confirmed.
What’s been encouraging, perhaps, is Rooney’s public self-mocking in the wake of the video’s release. Having scored one of the goals in the recent 3-0 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur by simulating receiving a knockout punch, falling back and lying star-shaped on the pitch before being ‘brought round’ by a team-mate. He’s managed to take the upper hand in doing so, turning a video in which he could be so easily mocked into something he can, himself, manipulate for his own gain. And, furthermore, it brought the true nature of what happened into sharp perspective. This was not, like so many before, an incident which should make us question societal morals or the supposedly decadent lifestyles led by modern footballers. It was two guys, having a bit of fun and, though dangerous, essentially harmless. There have been many occasions in which Rooney has been rightly criticized but this, in my opinion, is not one of them.