“He’s definitely being looked after by the right club and the right manager and with the right people around him,” David Beckham (12/09/10)
Perhaps it’s one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shortcomings. If you look past the trophies, the medals and the glory, you’ll find there are plenty of messy divorces at Old Trafford. Not all are enamoured with his hairdryer and not all believe in his methods. Just look at how he ruthlessly disposed of Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane. Ferguson thrives on the notion that no one man is bigger than the club.
And he’s usually right of course. Ince fluttered around but never enjoyed similar success, Keane’s career was virtually over, Beckham only won one league winner’s medal in Madrid and without van Nistelrooy, United revolutionised behind a new, more fluid system. Only Jaap Stam, a man Ferguson regrets jettisoning, enjoyed plenty of highs after United.
So the latest bust-up between Wayne Rooney and Ferguson isn’t all together surprising. But these are different circumstances and different times. United no longer have a stranglehold on the English game. If they cut off a limb, there is no guarantee it will simply grow back again in a different guise.
Ferguson is currently fighting battles on multiple fronts and this is simply a headache he doesn’t require. On the field, his porous defence has never looked so vulnerable, there’s a lack of depth in midfield and the quandary of what happens when Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes retire looms menacingly. Off the field, Ferguson continues to shroud himself in a cloud of mystery by ignoring the media’s every inquisition. His defence of the Glazers becomes increasingly tiresome whilst his insistence that there is no value in the market has been ridiculed by Rafael van der Vaart, Adam Johnson and Mesut Özil amongst others.
Meanwhile, Rooney lurches from one disaster to another. This year, he has been stalled by persistent injury problems and a lack of form. The youthful exuberance which once characterised England’s great hope has been replaced by apathy and reluctance. He has rolled out of a dismal World Cup straight into an off-field scandal jeopardising his new family. So if anyone needs to take a step back, attempt to fly under the radar for a while and allow his football to do the talking, it’s Rooney. You would think he’s in the perfect environment too. He’s at a club where he’s adored by the fans and his manager is an expert at deflecting attention away. But Rooney wants out.
Whether he is being badly advised or whether there’s more going on under the iron curtain than we know about is unclear. But neither side stands to benefit from this bizarre affair.
Both Rooney and Ferguson have a myriad of problems. But both are strong-willed, both are fighters and both are ultimately winners. This was meant to be the glue that held them together not the trigger to tear them apart.
This has the potential to be Ferguson’s messiest divorce yet but no deal can be made until January at the earliest and right now, Manchester United and Wayne Rooney appear to be in desperate need of each other.
“Shall I crack any of these old jokes, master, at which the audience never fail to laugh?”
Did you hear the one about Emile Heskey?
“A prisoner on Death Row in Utah has been allowed to choose his firing squad. He has chosen Heskey.”
How about this one…
“Robert Green faced over 100 shots in training today without conceding a goal. Tomorrow, he and Heskey will train with the rest of the squad.”
Type his name into Google and via the second option down you’ll be treated to a veritable smorgasbord of similar Heskey-themed funnies. Consult any tabloid and you’ll see a host of England players ‘scoring’ in one way or another. Heskey’s drought is perfect comic timing. Despite an international career which spanned over a decade, the Aston Villa striker was a constant target of derision from an expectant public who found his England inclusions most perplexing.
They will not need to ponder any more because Heskey’s days as the punch line are behind him. After retiring from international football, Heskey will enjoy a reprieve. He will no longer be scrutinised with the same intensity and he will no longer take the flak for the perennially ‘underachieving’ England. Kevin Davies, this particular baton and the jester’s hat await your services.
For England, he was surrounded by a plethora of supremely talented, apathetic egomaniacs but Heskey tended to swim against the tide. He simply wasn’t inhaling the same air of confidence which John Terry et al enjoyed. Criticising his performance was made all the easier as a result.
He will not don the England shirt again but under new Aston Villa boss Gérard Houllier he could be about to enjoy something of a renaissance. The England monkey is off his back and relieving that pressure can only assist Heskey’s confidence. Who is better to exploit this than the man who has shown more faith in him than anyone? Houllier broke Liverpool’s transfer fee to sign him back when he was manager on Merseyside and he was a regular fixture during the Frenchman’s tenure.
There is also the all too familiar path he seems to be currently treading. Previously eroded by David Beckham, Peter Crouch and Owen Hargreaves; being a target of abuse from England fans actually seems to do some good. The Beckham story has been retold on countless occasions, Hargreaves was one of the better performers at the 2006 World Cup and Crouch has one of the best strike-rates in world football.
With Houllier installed, Heskey has already started his own mini revival. Two goals in as many games drew comic gasps from the football community but the way Villa collapsed after he went off against Spurs showed just how pivotal he could be to Houllier’s Villa.
Stliyan Petrov this week claimed England will miss Emile Heskey. The Bulgarian may have been wide of the mark (just like Heskey! see how easy it is!) but Heskey can still offer something to his club. He may not have found his niche within the England squad but with Villa and under Houllier, the butt of the jokes can flourish this year.