x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Wayne Rooney tirade does not help image of football

Wayne Rooney's on-air outburst was an ugly, aggressive moment, which prompted viewer complaints and an investigation by the English Football Association.

Wayne Rooney shouts into the camera after his hat-trick against West Ham United.
Wayne Rooney shouts into the camera after his hat-trick against West Ham United.

Wayne Rooney loves four-letter words.

"Cash" is a firm favourite, as we know from his contract wrangling last year. He seems to like "girl", too, albeit not always the one he married. "Kick", "ball" and "goal" also please the Manchester United striker, when he is in the right mood.

Rooney's favourite four-letter word, however, is not fit for publication in a family newspaper.

Nor is it fit for live broadcast to a global television audience of millions, although that did not stop him screaming it into a Sky Sports camera following his brilliant hat-trick against West Ham United on Saturday.

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It was an ugly, aggressive moment, which prompted viewer complaints and an investigation by the English Football Association (FA) - although this limited vocabulary does help to explain Fabio Capello's recent boast that he only needs 100 words of English to manage the national team.

With Rooney, he probably needs just three, providing he also has a bag of biscuits and the player's favourite chew toy.

Rooney later issued an apology which blamed his "heat-of-the-moment" reaction on the fact that "emotions were running high".

This cuts little ice, partly because it was so blatantly written by somebody else - the word "emotion" has three syllables, which is a giveaway - and also because other sportsmen seem able to cope with equally emotional situations. The India cricket team were busy winning their first World Cup in 28 years around the time of Rooney's outburst.

I imagine emotions were running high in Mumbai, but nobody heard MS Dhoni spitting expletives into the camera. (To be fair, nobody could hear anything in Mumbai, including the coin toss, but that is another issue.)

Some will argue that Rooney is not the first sportsman to turn the air blue, and that is true. You can often hear the F-word in far more genteel sports, including rugby union. The former England hooker Brian Moore's line-out calls used to require an over-18 certificate.

But those expletives were aimed at teammates and opponents, not directly at those watching at home. There is a difference.

Besides, it was not Rooney's fruity language which offended me - I have heard, and used, worse - but the implication of his rant, namely, that he had proved his doubters wrong, that anyone questioning his ability should now be silenced by his brilliance.

But doesn't he realise? It is not his ability that we question, but his attitude.

We know he has a God-given talent. Any fool can see that. But we fear he is squandering it through unhealthy living, self-destructive habits and a terrible attitude.

Those fears are not allayed but compounded by seeing him mouthing off after scoring a hat-trick against injury-stricken relegation fodder like West Ham.

Rooney has an impressive medal haul at club level but has had a poor season and has yet to prove himself at international level.

He is now 25 years old. Considering his physique and hurly-burly style of play, he may have just four or five seasons left to really show us what he can do with that God-given talent, besides bullying inferior opposition and television cameramen.

Rooney loves four-letter words. Here are two more he should add to his limited vocabulary: tick tock, tick tock, tick tock …

...Violence can also be less than appetising to the viewers

It is a quirk of civilisation that we apparently find swearing in sport more offensive than physical violence.

I would suggest there were more complaints-per-viewer about Wayne Rooney’s foul language on Saturday than the butts and ferocious punches exchanged between the Harlequins’ Joe Marler and the Leicester Tigers Marcos Ayerza, which resulted in both players being sent off in their Aviva Premiership rugby union match in England.

“Why can’t footballers act more like rugby players?” we tut-tut, the implication being that it is OK to deliberately stamp on your opponent’s head but not call him a rude name.

To be fair, rugby does not tolerate violence as openly as it has done previously, but it can still be treated with a nod and a wink.

Dave Attwood, the Gloucester and England lock, gave an interview last week in which he renounced his violent past – he was banned last year for a stamp on La Rochelle’s Petrisor Toderasc.

But even in renouncing brutal play, his language betrayed his sport’s traditionally whimsical attitude to bloodshed: “When I started playing, if someone was lying on the floor and holding on to you, you gave them a load of shoe pie.”

Isn’t “shoe pie” a rather cuddly way of describing the fine art of treading on someone’s face? It certainly makes the prospect sound a lot more enticing.

Shoe pie? An excellent choice, Sir. Perhaps I can also interest Sir in some blood soup, with teeth croutons and a medley of lightly gouged eyeball.

Perhaps the football authorities should abort their Respect campaign – launched last week, to the sound of Sir Alex Ferguson’s derision – and instead simply “rebrand” the more unpleasant aspects of the game as tasty treats.

Spitting at opponents can be called “drizzling with saliva”, surrounding referees and screaming at them can be a “feedback buffet”, ankle-high tackles are “shin pad sushi” and a Rooney-style rant is “rude barb and cuss-word crumble”.

Mmmm, I’m hungry already.

sports@thenational.ae