x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The silent treatment

Professional footballers are no strangers to mime, having had plenty of practice feigning mortal injury at the merest suggestion of contact.

Wayne Rooney struggled to do a mime of David Beckham in a game of charades.
Wayne Rooney struggled to do a mime of David Beckham in a game of charades.

A professional footballer should be quite good at charades, the festive party game.

They are no strangers to mime, having had plenty of practice feigning mortal injury at the merest suggestion of contact.

So I expected better of Wayne Rooney, who struggled to wordlessly communicate the film title Bend It Like Beckham during a festive bout of charades on Manchester United TV.

Footage shows Rooney choosing to zone in on the fourth word, "Beckham". A wise decision, but it went downhill from there.

First he air-drew the number 7 with his finger, a blatant breach of charades rules which should have earned him a booking (but Manchester United have always played by their own rules). Rooney then tried to impersonate Beckham by half-heartedly running his hands through flowing locks of imaginary hair.

After a tough year for Rooney, hair-wise, that took some courage. Nonetheless, without the trademark Beckham pout, it lacked the quality we expect on such a big stage.

Frankly, the lad could have been impersonating anyone with straggly shoulder-length hair: Jonathan Woodgate, for example.

OK, maybe not Woodgate, because he would have pulled a muscle through the sheer exertion of hair-stroking, but the general point stands.

In desperation, Rooney then pointed at Sir Alex Ferguson and mimed a kick before slapping his own eye – a reference to the infamous flying boot incident of 2003.

It was a foolhardy move, which could have landed a lesser player on the transfer list. But more to the point, it was all rather old hat. Boot-gate was nearly a decade ago, and Beckham now sports a 1950s-style quiff.

In the modern era of charades, there is no excuse for professionals failing to drill set piece moves for the big names in sport.

After his time at Los Angeles Galaxy, for example, when he appeared to want to be almost anywhere else - Serie A, international duty, Gary Neville's testimonial – the most appropriate mime for Beckham is to recline on the imaginary seat of a transatlantic aeroplane.

It is exactly the same mime for Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, but facing the opposite direction.

For Tevez's teammate Mario Balotelli, one must light some imaginary blue touchpaper and retreat to a safe distance, closing the imaginary bathroom door en route.

Sergio Aguero, who described himself as the Che Guevara of football when he arrived at City, is simply a clenched fist salute.

For Fifa president Sepp Blatter, one must stand behind the imaginary wheel of a ship in stormy seas.

Fernando Torres said "romance is dead" when he ditched Liverpool for Chelsea in January, so his representation involves stamping on a dozen, long-stemmed, imaginary roses.

Or you could just look sullen and not score.

For Jose Mourinho, simply tweak the ear of an opposing team member. For Gennaro Gattuso, head-butt him. Or, if you really want to see sparks fly, wink at him. If he is miming Rio Ferdinand at the FA Cup semi-final, he will go potty.

If you follow these drills, your charades team will emerge victorious. Celebrate by hollering foul language into the nearest imaginary TV camera. I wonder whose mime that would be, eh Wayne?

Suarez support misguided

Liverpool players have a noble history of supporting various causes via the medium of shoddily printed T-shirts.

In 1997, Robbie Fowler celebrated a goal by lifting his jersey to reveal a T-shirt supporting 500 striking dockers.

In 2008, the entire squad warmed up in T-shirts demanding the release from prison of Michael Shields, a young Liverpool fan wrongly convicted of assault in Bulgaria.

This week they continued the tradition – sort of – by wearing T-shirts in support of a millionaire colleague punished for being, at best, offensively ignorant.

On Wednesday night, the team and manager warmed up wearing shirts bearing the image and squad number of striker Luis Suarez. This was a show of solidarity after the Football Association fined Suarez £40,000 (Dh 230,380) and banned him for eight games for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

To them, it was a physical demonstration of the club motto, You’ll Never Walk Alone. To the rest of us, it was blind tribalism. Tackling prejudice must take precedence over team bonding.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish had refused to take Evra’s allegations seriously from day one, pledging Suarez his full support before any investigation, internal or external, had begun.

When the FA investigated, and found Suarez guilty, Liverpool effectively thumbed their noses at them, scattering hasty allegations of injustice.

The defence of Suarez so far is apparently based on two flimsy arguments: firstly, that he may have reacted to abuse from Evra, and secondly that racial terms are more socially acceptable in his native Uruguay.

But those two arguments do not combine well. If he was reacting to verbal abuse, then surely he intended his response to be hurtful. In which case, why would he use an epithet he considered playful?

Suarez made a mistake. He and his club must take their medicine like men, and bin those T-shirts before their reputation is stained with more than just cheap printer's ink.