Belfast Telegraph

Rooney and Gerrard pull out of 'inappropriate' skills challenge

Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard have withdrawn from a lucrative skills showcase on the grounds that their involvement would be "inappropriate" in light of England's World Cup performance.

The A:3K Football event at London's O2 Arena scheduled for July 17 has been postponed until next summer because of their decision to pull out.

The England duo were due to compete in a series of head-to-head challenges billed as a "gladiatorial skills-based challenge" alongside Cesc Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo, Didier Drogba and David Villa.

But this morning it was announced the event has been abandoned for this year, just a day after Fabio Capello's team returned from South Africa amid a torrent of criticism.

They exited the World Cup with a 4-1 last-16 defeat to Germany, the nadir of a dire month that saw them win one match out of four.

Rooney was a huge disappointment throughout while Gerrard, the captain, suffered from being played out of position.

Terry Byrne, director of A:3K, said: "Both Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney have made it clear they believe it would be inappropriate for them to participate in A:3K at this time.

"We fully understand and respect both players' decisions. We could have replaced them with two other players but feel the players involved are six of the best in the world and that is what we promised we would deliver.

"Having consulted all parties involved, everyone agreed the only decision possible was to postpone the event until next summer when we intend to deliver the same six player line-up."

There was little opposition from event organisers once Rooney and Gerrard revealed their intention to withdraw.

President of international touring for AEG Live Rob Hallett, who was promoting the event, said: "As a football fan I totally understand and respect Steven and Wayne's decision to postpone their involvement in A:3K until next year.

"We look forward to hosting the event at the O2 Arena on the rescheduled date in June 2011."

Rooney and Gerrard, who were reportedly being paid £500,000 each for the two-hour appearance, were faced with little choice.

The fallout from a lamentable World Cup has seen England's players subjected to stinging criticism and could yet claim coach Fabio Capello, whose future is being debated by the Football Association.

To appear at an event publicised as "six football superstars demonstrating the core skills that have made them what they are" would have been a PR disaster.

Rooney and Gerrard are not alone among the participants who have, for a variety of reasons, failed to deliver in South Africa, however.

An injured Drogba exited in the group stages with the Ivory Coast, while Ronaldo cut a dejected figure as he was starved of possession in Portugal's defeat to Spain last night.

Ronaldo was expected to be one of the stars of the tournament but was restricted by an ordinary Portugal side employing a negative gameplan.

The Spaniards have fared better with Villa in sensational form, though Arsenal captain Fabregas has had to settle for a place on the bench.

Belfast Telegraph


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