We’ve all been here before of course, back in 2004 the even more famous David Beckham fell out with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and headed off to Real Madrid – and his global popularity didn’t seem to suffer too much despite a well-publicised fling with Rebecca Loos, the Spanish-speaking PA his agency SFX kindly supplied him with.
But Wayne Rooney, who enjoyed lucrative contracts with Coke Zero, EA Sports, Harper Collins and Nike in the UK and Tiger beer in Asia until he was convicted in the tabloids of romping with two Manchester hookers, differs from Beckham in some important respects.
For a start Rooney is more admired than liked unlike Beckham who remains many people’s ideal version of the boy next door despite his staggering wealth (£100m plus) and 35 years. Beckham long ago passed the stage where his performances on the football pitch were essential to his fame whereas Rooney, whose form has taken an alarming dip this year, is either a top footballer or nothing. As his sponsors know only too well.
But Rooney is widely reported to have refused to sign a new Man U contract and is expected to depart long before the current one expires in 2012 (if it runs down financially hard-pressed United won’t get any money for him).
His likeliest destination is reported to be Real Madrid, coached by former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho. Assuming Rooney is still with wife Coleen Mourinho, who enjoys a carefully-nurtured family man image, is hardly likely to countenance a Loos lookalike to help him settle in.
As for the sponsors, Coke Zero seems to have dropped him already from any new projects while the others have said they’re sticking with Wayne. But an out-of-sorts Rooney plying his trade in Spain is hardly the property they thought they were buying.
Rooney and Fergie may patch things up of course but that would be the first example in recorded history of Sir Alex changing his mind. Mourinho may not be interested in Rooney either although one suspects the many reports that he is emanate from his pals in Spain. Showing he could get more out of the England striker than the great Sir Alex would surely be irresistible.
But the Rooney affair is of more than passing interest to all the many companies who invest in football in one way or another. There are definite signs that the public’s love affair with football, in Europe anyway, is starting to cool. In the midst of economic hard times the antics of these overpaid young men and the bizarre and grasping behaviour of many of the business types who own the clubs are decidedly off-putting, even to people who have loved the game for years.
Rooney, through no real fault of his own (there’s no evidence that he’s any worse than the rest of them) could be the player who comes to epitomise the end of this particular love affair with football.