There was always a point when the grumpy posturing of Wayne Rooney was going to lapse into the grotesque and the absurd.
It happened, surely, when Roy Hodgson, an experienced and cultivated football man, made a special appeal for some kind of understanding of the turmoil currently being endured by the Manchester United malcontent, who at the last time of checking was still earning £250,000 a week.
“You cannot,” said Hodgson, “divorce a person and the way he feels from the way he plays. We sometimes forget that, I think.”
Yes we do, Roy, and there is a compelling reason for this. It is to do with professionalism, how a man handles the pressures and circumstances of an uncharted life. We expect it of any guy who works for hire, whether he’s a neurosurgeon or a squaddie on patrol in Afghanistan.
We expect it of men and women who earn minute fractions of Rooney’s million a month. We expect them to tend the sick, drive the buses and work at a lathe whatever the condition of their lives and current level of their contentment and this, perhaps inevitably, tends to sour us to the whining and the grimaces of people like Rooney and his fellow victim of life’s random circumstances, Luis Suarez.
The England manager Hodgson is, not unreasonably, hoping that something resembling a front-rank professional shows up when Rooney joins the squad for next week’s friendly with Scotland. He has, of course, been down this route before, most specifically at last summer’s European Championship in Ukraine, and if the truth was obscured by some elaborate praise for the player’s attitude and performance the new manager had to be gravely disappointed.
After he missed the first two games of the tournament because of a brutish, mindless foul, Rooney’s contribution was largely embarrassing. He was plainly short of anything close to full fitness, a situation that might have been less pronounced if he had forgone an end-of-season trip to Las Vegas.
There were times when England’s Euro campaign seemed to amount to not a lot more than Waiting For Wayne, something which Hodgson’s predecessors Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello had done so unavailingly in the World Cup finals of 2006 and 2010.
Before the action started in Ukraine, Hodgson talked about Rooney’s “world class” and suggested that his delayed appearance would open the way to the final. That dream perished in England’s goalless ejection by Italy in the quarter-finals, after which Hodgson said that maybe a little bit too much had been expected of the star player. However, it was nothing to do with a lack of fitness, just an excess of expectation.
There has been plenty of that, of course, since Rooney’s eruption as the bustling young prodigy of Everton and, if he showed superb quality in the 2004 Euros in Portugal, the rest has been intermittent brilliance sandwiched between growing evidence that the player of his English generation, and potentially a member of the world elite, had entered decline.
Now we hear Hodgson warning England’s Chelsea players against talking to Rooney about their manager Jose Mourinho’s efforts to sign him. He is being put into some strange glass cage, a vulnerable creature apparently fearful of the reactions of his United team-mates and the Old Trafford fans.
It is really rather pathetic. Rooney has played 83 times for England and been feted at Old Trafford for the best part of nine years, right up to the point when Sir Alex Ferguson decided he had to move for Robin van Persie, an investment upon whom he could rely in terms of both performance and professional conduct.
This was around the time he dropped Rooney from an important Premier League game and fined him for presenting himself unfit for training, which was barely two years after Rooney had chastised Ferguson for his lack of ambition in the transfer market and held the club up to ransom while demanding a new contract – an ultimatum that came, bizarrely, soon after his abject and extremely surly progress through the 2010 World Cup, some bruising personal publicity and an extremely lean run in the colours of Manchester United.
Presumably all this must be put aside as we heed the advice to understand the tender feelings of a player who believes that he has to leave Old Trafford before he can prosper again as an elite footballer.
It is a lot easier said than done if you happen to believe that the solution to all of Wayne Rooney’s problems lies at his own feet. Hodgson suggests that such an assessment is cruel and simplistic. It isn’t. Beyond the fantasy world that big-time football has become, Rooney can hardly be seen as a victim.
He has created Wayne’s World, no one else. If he is at all wise he will start work on a new one, a real one, while there is a little time left.