During the international break, tabloid headlines were dominated by the exposure of the actions of several England players. The players were chastised for their behaviour.
While information differs, it is supposed that England players were given the weekend off following their win over Scotland on Friday November 11th. In the following week, The Sun led with this headline: “Wayne Rooney shocks guests as he crashes wedding on boozy bender in hotel bar after Scotland win”. Despite stating that John Stones, Phil Jagielka and Raheem Sterling were also indulging in a few drinks at the hotel, the allegations were explicitly aimed at Rooney. A few days later pictures emerged of Rooney, The Sun suggesting they illustrated his drunken state. In the wake of this damaging story, Rooney issued a statement affirming that he “unreservedly apologises” for the “inappropriate” images.
In some ways, I think Rooney was incredibly naïve. The fact Rooney is pictured in his England training gear is particularly damning and was a foolish decision on his part. On Rooney, the England training gear evokes his role as captain, and the subsequent responsibilities that entails, providing greater ammunition for the press. Moreover, the England team is still recovering from the turbulence created by the Sam Allardyce scandal. The England team desperately needs a period of stability; Rooney’s actions have caused the opposite.
However, these reasons are outweighed by the sympathy I have for Rooney. In my mind, this was a vitriolic attack on a player that has endured an extremely difficult year on the football field. Rooney’s form, and subsequently his ability, has been the hot topic of debate within English football for some time. Rooney was hammered following England’s disastrous Euro 2016 campaign: the failure of the team was laid firmly on his shoulders by areas of the media. Moreover, since José Mourinho took over at Manchester United, Rooney is no longer an established first-team player and has played only 2 full league games this season. The media scrutiny and Mourinho’s treatment led to Gareth Southgate dropping Rooney for a qualifying game against Slovenia on October 11th. The insecurity that has plagued Rooney during the latter half of this year will have undoubtedly affected him.
Many have come out in defence of Rooney. One of the most articulate responses was from Jamie Carragher, alluding to the immense pressure Rooney endures as a footballer, stating the night of drinking was a much-needed “release”. I would second this argument. While many would have become bitter or outspoken, Rooney has remained extremely dignified and calm during this difficult time in his career. Several tabloids have used this incident to unashamedly attack and undermine the credibility of a player at his most vulnerable. I wholeheartedly agree with Rooney in that the coverage has been “disgraceful”. Furthermore, this is the press getting in early jabs at the Southgate regime (he will likely be named England manager full-time). This will inevitably continue throughout his tenure. The media have got the England team truly under their control.
Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana deserve separate consideration. On the same night as Rooney’s incident, the two Liverpool players were spotted in Bournemouth at a strip club, 110 miles away from the England base camp for the international break; the Daily Mail adds that “Lallana was spotted slowly sipping on a beer” while the teetotal Henderson “stuck to water”. I have no desire to debate the moral permissibility of strip clubs; the coverage of the Liverpool player’s foray suggests that there are hypothetical limits on a footballers’ freedom to act that don’t exist for the rest. As with the Rooney situation, I think it was naïve for Henderson and Lallana to visit a strip club while representing their country; there is definitely an extra level of responsibility entailed by this role. However, unless it is perceived to be affecting their training and performance levels, footballers should have the same freedom to do this as everyone else.
A theme arising from this media scrutiny is the incongruous notion that footballers aren’t allowed to enjoy a drink. For me, the traditional argument that footballers should be role-models, setting the highest standards of behaviour, can only stretch so far. Undoubtedly, they are idolised figures in our society, and thus, should set good examples. However, this is completely ignoring the fact that they are human beings, human beings like us that enjoy drinking and going out. While I am not a sports scientist, I would argue that players, the pressures of the modern game considered, need time off, taking their minds off football. A clearer mind would certainly lead to better performances on the pitch.
The fact of the matter is that these incidents happened in the wake of the triumph over Scotland, our local rival. England players were well in their right, but instead, were wrongly chastised for celebrating the win. This is yet further evidence for the damaging effect the media has on the England team, and the dangers of a powerful and intrusive press.
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