|photo by Vlad Genie||via PhotoRee|
So now that the Rooney saga has been put to bed, I find myself scratching my head and wondering how I'm supposed to feel. Assaulted on all fronts by story after story without stop since last Sunday evening, tonight is the first I've had the time to reflect on all that's transpired and attempt to figure out what it means. So here goes. Not perfect by any means, and slightly raw with emotion, but straight from the heart.
In part, I feel numb to the events of the past week. So much has happened between Wayne Rooney and Manchester United, the emotions twisted up and down with each new article -- will he? won't he? -- that I'm worn out by it all. I can't take it anymore. So in a way, as I wrote last night, I didn't really care how it turned out, I just wanted it over. I guess you would call that relief. Question answered, itch scratched, problem solved: relief.
But there's a larger feeling lurking in the shadows like a crowd of men with balaclavas: I'm angry, too. I'm pissed at Wayne Rooney. Who exactly did he think he was? Bigger than the club? That's laughable. Why did he drag Manchester United through a news week that no one needed, in which he and not the team was the center of attention? For personal gain? Clearly. But at what cost?
Rooney and his agent Paul Stretford drastically overplayed their negotiating hand in an attempt to secure the highest payday yet for Man United's former superstar. But to what end? Sure, they may have significantly increased Rooney's salary, but how do you possibly measure the fallout? Alienation from the very people who supported him the most? Surely some things can't be measured by money alone, and the ends don't always justify the means. Through his (and his agent's) actions, Rooney chose to trample the fragile bond that exists between heroes and their supporters, and lose a trust that will not easily be restored.
I think what galls me most is the same thing that sticks in the craws of most United fans: the belief that before this past week, Rooney was one of us. Sure, he made bags more money than most people, but no one begrudged him that; it hadn't seem to change him. Rooney was fashioned of the people and for the people, an ordinary kid made good. Straight off the mean streets of Croxteth, Rooney was the kind of working class hero they don't make anymore. His ethic was unquestioned: no one played harder, or left more on the pitch, than Wayne Rooney.
But the image had begun to show some tarnish of late. Fresh off a disastrous World Cup in which he played exceptionally poorly -- and also in which Rooney's England famously finished behind the team from its former colonies in North America -- he became ensnared in the pages of the UK tabloids as they exposed his illicit romps with high priced call girls at Manchester's Lowry Hotel.
Yet still, despite it all, United fans continued to believe in him. Rooney may have cheated in his personal life, but we stayed faithful. He may have fallen out with his family, but the love for him among the fans showed no sign of abating. He was our talisman, the one player at our disposal who could singlehandedly change the course of a game through exertion alone. He was ours, he was Wayne Rooney, the name chanted by the crowd, his every touch applauded. He was the living, breathing embodiment of Manchester United -- a champion, but not a primadonna, a worker-bee-cum-superstar who wasn't too proud to do the dirty work before he scored the winning goal.
At some point, he must have fallen dangerously into the trap of believing his own press. Likely goaded on by his agent, Rooney stopped believing he needed Manchester United as much or more than the club needed him. Although worldly in his travel and bank account balance, Rooney showed a shocking naivete as to how United fans would react to events of this past week.
Given bad advice, Rooney needlessly pushed the bounds of his negotiation past all reasonable points. And broke the bond of trust. Didn't just break it actually, but by questioning the very ambition of the club and the quality of its players, broke it and ripped it into small little pieces which he then proceeded to set on fire.
The backlash was strong and immediate, the fallout swift and severe, and it doesn't end with today's news of Rooney's new contract. Today may mark the beginning of his attempt to repair the damage, but the cup of milk is spilled. Sure it can be cleaned up, but it can't be replaced.
Someone once famously said that it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and five minutes to lose it. It's easy to say that Rooney will start scoring goals again and all will be forgiven, but I'm not so sure. We may cheer his name again, and yell for him to enter the heat of battle, but for me it can never be the same. For once a bond is broken it can be repaired but never restored to its original state. So in the end I guess that the word that best describes how I feel is betrayed, a true fan exposed. And for that, I'm not apologizing to anyone.
I'm farlieonfootie for October 23.