Wayne Rooney: a Scrub-Jay defence

Wayne Rooney: a Scrub-Jay defence

By TomTom – Your SatNav around Football


In 2003 a scientist carried out an experiment.

The scientist wanted to find out if animals possessed the power of ‘episodic memory’, a what-where-when memory which remembers not only events, but the context in which events occur.

Using Western Scrub Jays, a remarkable native American bird with a distinctive blue head, the scientist allowed the birds to catch and hide two types of food: worms, which would last a few hours, and peanuts which would last a few days.

The scientist took the birds away and then returned them, some after a four hours and others after five days.

The Scrub Jays that returned after four hours remembered what they had hidden – worms – where they had hidden them and, crucially, that the juicy worms would still be fresh.

The Scrub Jays that returned after five days remembered the worms would have disintegrated and so piled into the peanuts instead.

Wayne Rooney must wish such an experiment could be carried out on football fans.

It is now a generally accepted view that Rooney is unable to perform on the highest international stage and unlikely to match the expectations heaped on his shoulders from the day he made his England debut at 17 years of age.

Fabio Capello’s witty-witty quip yesterday that Rooney must ‘only understand Scottish’ may as well have been a cue for the trumpets to sound and the funeral march to begin.

But resist for a moment the temptation to bury another England prodigy with an elegy of too much hype and desperate disappointment.

Rooney has played 13 games at international tournaments and scored five goals. Not a stunning record but hardly a shocking one either. In the same number of international tournaments Lionel Messi has scored two less.

But the faintly damning statistics only tell half the story.

100% fit and injury free Rooney has arguably played one tournament, Euro 2004, where he played four and scored four.

Since then the Manchester United striker has seen three tournaments plagued by either injury or a distinct lack of fitness.

In 2006 Rooney was rushed back after he sustained an injury to his metatarsal. Having not played a match for more than eight weeks Eriksson flung Rooney into the final group game against Sweden and then a quarter –final against Portugal.

He wasn’t fit for either and not surprisingly he under-performed in both.

Four years later Rooney’s World Cup preparations were once again hampered by injury after he injured his ankle against Bayern Munich two months before.

Ferguson has since admitted he rushed Rooney back too soon and the injury rolled on into the World Cup campaign. Rooney played through but struck out, playing four and scoring none.

And then came Rooney’s latest tale of woe, Euro 2012. Suspended for the opening two games and left out of the pre-tournament friendlies Rooney was clearly under-prepared and painfully out of nick.

Granted we must be comprehensive with the facts – the Scrub Jay wouldn’t have it any other way – Rooney’s suspension was entirely a result of his own stupidity but on performance alone Euro 2012 cannot be taken as an indictment on Rooney’s international class.

A list of excuses always appear collectively, as a smoke-screen for failure but Rooney’s excuses are genuine and valid.

The thing about major tournaments is they don’t last long.

When recalling a World Cup or a European Championship it’s easy to apply the same sweeping conclusions as you might do to say, a Premier League season.

If a player under-performs for ten games in a premier league season he is said to be out of form. If a player plays poorly for ten games internationally three tournaments have passed by and he is labelled ‘not international class’.

Rooney is a victim of such sweeping conclusions, a victim of circumstance, of bad luck, and of course, a victim of his own stupidity.

But let’s not neglect our what-where-when memories of the facts.

Rooney as an international footballer is as yet unproven. He has played in four international tournaments but if England were not so desperately reliant on his superior talents he probably should have sat out for three.

Rooney is an outstanding footballer, consistent enough to be marksman of one of the biggest clubs in the world and good enough to be relied on by the greatest manager in the world.

So before another trumpet sounds on another England footballer’s international career let’s hold the back page headlines, look at the context behind the facts and for once, start separating the worms from the peanuts.

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About TomTom
“Having studied English at university and always been a keen footballer and fan, combining the two has always appealed to me.” - Tom Lytton-Dickie. -"I'm a recently qualified journalist and I've worked in newspapers and broadcasting. I'm a dedicated follower of all sports primarily football, tennis and cricket." Tom Allnutt

  • Mark McWilliams

    An interesting perspective. I think you’re right about the extent to which injuries have hampered his tournaments but it is fair to recognise that some great players have performed exceptionally well at international level despite serious injury – think Baresi in 1994.

    I think Wayne’s a little unfortunate to be catching so much heat from the Italy game. Marking a creative player at the same time as providing a goal threat is something he is capable of doing very well and I think he did a relatively good job of restricting Pirlo in the first half. Clearly, he failed to do so in the second half but I do wonder if this task had been given to someone else at half time. If it was his job, he performed it woefully.

    If fitness is the problem at this tournament, he has to answer for the deficiency. Not just because he got himself the ban, but because he shoudln’t need match practice to maintain peak physical condition.

    It’s complicated. I like him and I think he’s catching some unfair criticism, but I think a good deal of it is merited. If he can do a Baresi at some point, he will heal the wounds. Quite literally.

    • Tomallnutt

      Mark, surely the problem with Rooney wasn’t that he was just unfit but that he was painfully out of nick – his touch was off and he always seemed to be a yard off the pace. And whilst I agree with you physical condition can be maintained on the treadmill, you can’t stay match fit – and match sharp – without playing games, and Rooney just hadn’t played enough of them. I also agree that other great players have dealt with injuries in the past but  different players have different needs. In my opinion Rooney is one of those players who needs form, momentum and rhythm to be at his best. Some can come back and pick it up again almost immediately but – unfortunately – Rooney isn’t one of them.

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