Updated: February 26, 2014 10:31:28 pm
The day after Manchester United made Wayne Rooney the highest-paid player in Britain, a fan (or fans) of an opposing team threw coins at him as he prepared to take a corner kick.
Rooney’s reaction was measured and mature. He picked the loose change off the turf, handed it to the referee, and got on with his game. For good measure, Rooney later scored the goal of the game in United’s 2-0 victory at London’s Crystal Palace. The pittance hurled at the player is no laughing matter. Coins thrown in anger or derision can blind. It was at this same ground 19 years ago where Eric Cantona launched a kick into the face of a fan who had taunted him.
Rooney did well not to respond with anger or aggression. In fact, he channeled his own mercurial mix of the belligerence and beauty into the class act of the game when he scored the second conclusive goal of Saturday’s match. Manchester United had by then worn down the well-organized defiance to its patently greater talents. Palace had played on the back foot, until a clumsy tackle by Marouane Chamakh upended United fullback Patrice Evra just inside the penalty box. With consummate ease and might, Robin van Persie dispatched the penalty kick.
That was the second-best kick of the match. Six minutes later, Rooney topped it. Juan Mata and Evra set up the incisive attack down the left before Rooney let fly with a line of four defenders retreating in front of him.
Worth his wages
It was the kind of skill that might make Rooney worth his wages. Balanced like a ballerina on the toes of his left foot, he let the ball come across his body before applying a touch with his right foot that sent it powerfully and precisely into the corner of the net. Very few players can pull off a volley as sweet as that. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is born of rare instinct and technique, and it allows Rooney to swipe his foot across the ball so that it rises and arcs beyond the reach of the goalkeeper.“I’ve been trying to let my football do the talking,” Rooney later said on television.
He was replying not just to the question about what comes into his head when such an opportunity presents itself. The real and ongoing questions surrounding Rooney have been about his protracted negotiations before he signed a new contract on Friday that ties him to United until 2019. The haggling had been going on all season long, following attempts by Chelsea to entice him away. Rooney’s agent held United to ransom, not for the first time, to keep its own player. The old contract, which had 18 months left, was replaced by a new one that is reportedly worth 300,000 pounds per week, or about $26 million per year. On one hand, it suits the club to show its ambition to hold on to a star player. On the other, the salary figures are between the club, the player and the tax authorities.
The club is expected to reap about 420 million pounds of income in the current financial year. It would have to pay considerably more, in both transfer fee and wages, if it tried to find an adequate replacement for Rooney. Now 28, Rooney has shown year after year that he has the muscle, the aptitude and the team spirit to thrive in the physical intensity of English soccer. Right now, Mesut Ozil, Arsenal’s record-setting acquisition, is omitted from the team because his skills and confidence have waned in his first season in the Premier League. Ozil will come back. He has even more vision, a more refined soccer brain, than Rooney.
Whether he could slog through 10 seasons, as Rooney already has, is a gamble. And so, in a sense, is whether Rooney can do it for another five seasons. There are a lot of miles on Rooney’s engine. He runs 10 kilometers every game and is heavily built; there is a reason why Saturday’s goal was his first in the league since Christmas. Rooney had been a frequent visitor to the trainer’s table for a deep groin strain. Throwing money at him cannot put that right.
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