By God’s providence he was catch’d, with dark lantern and burning match.
Just about to light the prime, caught him in the nick of time.
“What shall we do with him!”
“BURN HIM” –Prayer by the Bishop of the Edenbridge Bonfire Society
Contrition lies deeply wedged in Wayne Rooney’s throat. Following the public disclosure of his affair and his near departure from Manchester United, saying sorry clearly is not easy for him. In its place there is an admission of sorts, which comes a little late, as if it was forcefully wrung from him. Launching a verbal assault at a Sky TV camera while celebrating a hat trick, provided an opportunity for Rooney to issue an unprompted and expedient apology in an effort to preempt criticism and avert or minimize disciplinary action. But it was also meant as a gesture of personal growth and maturity that he hoped would be recognized in light of the recent past, regardless if the effort was carefully managed and scripted.
The apology moved quickly to sanitize the “foul-mouthed rant” by addressing his responsibility as a role model:
“I want to apologise for any offence that may have been caused, especially any parents or children watching. Emotions were running high and on reflection my heat-of-the-moment reaction was inappropriate. It was not aimed at anyone in particular.”
This didn’t help his case with the FA who issued and upheld a two-game ban “for the use of offensive, insulting and/or abusive language”. Rooney issued a statement after the failed appeal. Admittedly gutted, he went on to defend himself:
I am not the first player to have sworn on TV and I won’t be the last. Unlike others who have been caught swearing on camera, I apologised immediately. And yet I am the only person banned for swearing. That doesn’t seem right.
Rooney portrayed the incident as a common occurrence for which he chose to make an exemplary apology. Whatever, it was a poor defense. Not having the benefit of seeing the incident unfold on television is a thin excuse and requires us to uncomfortably stretch the benefit of the doubt. The speedy apology indicated that it didn’t take long for those who watched the ranting live to relay the truth of how bad it looked, regardless if one thinks swearing trivial—it’s not Libya after all, Rio Ferdinand said.
Has there been a high profile, high quality public sparring in recent memory like the mid-week round between Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney?
Ferguson’s disdain for the press conference as firing line has led to a successful control of his media access. Fergie logic dictates that if the media is out to get him, then he has every right to defend himself through avoidance or bearishness. Calling a press conference to address the Rooney rebellion/insurrection indicated that the situation had reached a severity no longer served by entrenched distance. The obligation to publicly address the situation became an opportunity to reassert authority.
Ferguson spoke for six absorbing minutes. A grave seriousness carried something somber within it. Those brief downward glances were subtle expressions of a wounded man’s exasperation. Thirty-seven years of hardened managerial experience couldn’t hide a sense of powerlessness. As his version of the story wove its way through the course of events, it became clear that there was no intention to hide his solemnity.
His stated intent was to set the record straight, but it would not have been possible for his version of the story to so masterfully take control of a crisis with multiple fronts without the emotional content of his words. History, identity, and legacy were at stake. Presenting the facts as “we understand them” addressed the immediate circumstances and framed the future by anticipating the questions and criticism that would certainly follow in the aftermath, regardless of outcome.
The first front was the defense of club’s position through the tradition of paternal benevolence of which he is the pillar. Every Manchester United player is an equal part. They will be taken care of, looked after, and supported in difficult periods on and off the pitch.
Ferguson spent almost a third of the press conference addressing Rooney’s recent “ankle injury” through the context of this familial bond as policy.
The success of Arséne Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson is evident on the pitch, but must also be attributed to skills applied throughout the numerous aspects of the trade.
“The manager is a strong guide inside the club and has to establish his authority and demonstrate he is in complete control.”
“I met with David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad.” -Wayne Rooney
In the span of a week, Wayne Rooney, all but certain to leave Manchester United, had suddenly pledged his loyalty by signing a new long-term contract. The story was resolved as quickly as broke into crisis. It burned fast, gave off bright light and wavy trails of smoke like fireworks or a dying star.
For a week, this Rooney saga proved the juiciest, for it was a football scandal through in through—highlighting the power of the player, the declining power of the football manager, the seedy puppetmastery of the shadow agent, and the illogical financial calculus of a club in precarious times.
Within a few days of the story breaking, Sir Alex Ferguson gave a great press conference. He maneuvered skillfully, with a knife between smiling teeth, to position and influence the perception of himself, the club, and Rooney.
By the time the six-minute speech concluded, there was near consensus that the relationship between player and manager had become irreparable. Rooney would be off to Real Madrid, Chelsea, or, God forbid, Manchester City.
The press conference, which was closer to the briefing of a statesman, aimed to reassert his control over a situation with a number of unpredictable outcomes. He had to cover all of his bases, anticipate countermoves by Rooney, fans, and the media. He walked the finest of lines. Despite the brilliance of his efforts and broad exertion of control, the intricate maneuvering indicated that he was unsure how it would all end.
Rooney’s public criticism of Manchester United’s decline in combination with Ferguson’s press conference very quickly presented a story where it appeared that the media had no need to fill the scandal’s holes with the thinnest of speculation. The facts were hard and required little stretching. Everything between manager and favorite son had been laid bare. The only speculative element lay in where Rooney would go.
Arséne Wenger’s comments about the crisis, recorded the day before Ferguson’s press conference, were matter-of-fact. “Rooney is a great player. I am convinced he will stay at Manchester United because it is his club. They have the power to keep him.”