England v USA – is snobbery rather than principle behind criticism of the Rooney testimonial?

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The upcoming friendly between England and the USA has many interesting story lines.

At the time of writing, the USA have been managerless for over a year with Dave Sarachan still carrying the interim title. The length of time it has taken for a successor to be appointed has infuriated many fans; fans who it must be said are already unhappy with the election of Carlos Cordeiro to replace Sunil Gulati as the President of US Soccer. Cordeiro was seen as the candidate of the ultra-establishment at a time when the US Soccer Federation most needed to embrace change.

There is palpable anger among the hardcore base of national team supporters.

Back in England, most fans seem fairly happy with the direction Gareth Southgate’s team are taking.

There’s an old adage that you can only beat what’s in front of you. This argument has been trotted out by many irked by the constant criticism of the low standard of opponent England faced in their way to the World Cup semi-finals.

Yes, England reached the World Cup semi-final but they were also beaten more often than any other side bar Egypt. There seems to be a broad consensus that Southgate is the right man to bring forward an exciting new generation of talent, and that is reflected in his squad especially the section of Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson.

With nothing much substantial to complain about, the tabloid and broadsheet media therefore have honed in on the decision to make the game a kind of testimonial to Wayne Rooney’s England career. Rooney now plays for DC United in Major League Soccer and has had a much better season that many cynics first thought.

There have been some spectacular goals and some running back to tackle that belies the stereotype of the washed out former world star just here to pick up a paycheck.

Not every retiring “Eurostar” lights MLS on fire. But for every Steven Gerrard or Djimi Traoré, there’s a Robbie Keane or a David Beckham, and Wayne Rooney in his first season has shown himself to be more Keane than Gerrard.

Clearly he cannot perform at competitive international level any more at 33-years-old but he will pick up a 120th senior cap in a one-off appearance against the Americans after last playing two years ago.

But when it was announced last weekend, that Rooney would come out of his international retirement to play against the USA on November 15 and that this was being done in order to promote his charity, the reception was as frosty as a DC winter.

 

Rooney has formed a charity called ‘The Wayne Rooney Foundation’. According to its website, its goals are laudable:

“The Foundation will run events will raise vital funds to support the work of key organisations dedicated to supporting disadvantaged and vulnerable children and young people. These organisations include, The NSPCC, Claire House Children’s Hospice, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Manchester United Foundation.”

The Football Association moved quickly to extinguish the first line of media attack and confirmed the Foundation will not receive any of the gate receipts from the game despite it being billed as the Wayne Rooney Foundation International.

“The FA is a not-for-profit organisation which invests millions of pounds back into the grassroots game on an annual basis,” a spokesperson said.

“The proceeds from the England v USA will go back into the English game. However, to honour Wayne Rooney and his record-breaking England career, we will also help raise money for the Wayne Rooney Foundation through a number of fundraising initiatives around the match.”

Money will be raised at the game through collecting tins, auctions in hospitality suites and by generally promoting awareness of the charity’s causes. This is far from unique for England internationals and the process will probably be similar to other charitable friendly matches, such as the Breast Cancer Care International against the Netherlands in 2016.

The crowd will also be given the option to add a donation to the Foundation when they purchase tickets for the match, while there will be text-to-donate details inside the stadium during the game.

The second wave of criticism was that no Englishman on his retirement had even been given a farewell game before. But if that’s the problem, why not have a legends game to thank Gary Lineker or David Seaman? Especially if either of them are promoting a charity to help the less well off.

The point is Rooney has devoted his name to helping the less fortunate. Lineker is a well paid host on Match of the Day (and a very good one), and has been paid money to advertise crisps as well as doing great work for leukaemia charities after his eldest son survived it as a baby. He has also helped the Fight for Life and Cancer Research UK charities. None of which really advances the argument that the Rooney Foundation should not be helped by this match especially in light of the charity element of  the 2016 game against the Dutch.

There seems to be another force at work here.

Rooney has never been particularly liked by the London sports media. While David Beckham in his charming London way married a global superstar, courted the media brilliantly and laid his glittering private life open for the tabloids to fill column yards, Rooney has, despite the millions he has earned, strayed less from his working class roots both in his demeanour and his conduct.

He married a women he attended school with in Croxteth and whereas Beckham was a Londoner who supported Manchester United as a kid, Rooney stayed loyal to his local club Everton – and of course returned to play for them. Newspaper columns rely more heavily on Londoners and others who support Manchester United than loyal Evertonians for readership.

Rooney also appears to have eschewed the voice training and sophisticated media handling of Beckham and never really seemed happy being in the headlines for anything other than his football.

I’m not the right person to say definitively whether England fans should thank him. Had he scored as many goals for Scotland as he has for the Three Lions and was promoting a charity to help youngsters in Glasgow or Edinburgh, nobody in Scotland would complain about a farewell; least of all me.

In the end, the English footballing public will have their say next week, something we can measure both by how many people turn out at Wembley, how much is put in the collecting tins for his charity and the reception Rooney receives from the crowd.

But I think we can already guess how the underprivileged youngsters who will benefit from the Foundation’s work feel about the game.

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