March 31st, 2010
10:18 AM ET

Is Wayne Rooney really that important?

The injury to England and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, sustained in his club's first leg European Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, has caused panic attacks and palpitations to football fans the world over.

Wayne Rooney limps out of Manchester United's clash with Bayern Munich.
Wayne Rooney limps out of Manchester United's clash with Bayern Munich.

There once was a time when it was only fanatics of the game who would react with hysteria to such seemingly frivolous news (it is just a twisted joint after all, there were no fatalities) but in today's globalized economy - where football is big business and the soccer soap opera captivates the interest of millions around the world - such an event becomes a major deal.

Is Wayne Rooney really that important?

Rooney not playing is a big problem to a number of parties with vested interests. Firstly, the Liverpool-born hit-man has been in prolific form this season - his goal against Bayern was his 34th of the current campaign - a feat that has helped his club side lead the English Premier League, capture a domestic cup and progress to the latter stages of the Champions League.

Alex Ferguson's men play Chelsea on Saturday in a crucial title decider that Rooney will almost certainly watch from the sidelines, he also may struggle to be fit for Bayern's visit to Old Trafford where United need to overturn a 2-1 deficit to stay in the European competition. United fans, consequently, must be worried.

His performances for England helped his nation qualify in some style for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which kicks off in June; he is the talisman of the squad, Fabio Capello's best player. For England fans, the sight of their most talented footballer getting injured before a major tournament is familiar ground (see David Beckham circa 2002 and Rooney in 2006), hence doom and gloom is already descending on a country well-versed in big-tournament disappointment.

The typically hyped-up British press carried headlines including "Pray" (The Sun), "In Rooins" (The Daily Mirror), and "Roo in Crock Shock Scare" (The Daily Star) - which begs the questions what will the headline writers do during the World Cup without such ripe material to work from?

The 24-year-old must wait on the outcome of a scan to understand how severe the twisted right ankle, which forced him to limp out of the game, is and how long it will keep him out of action. You can bet that domestic broadcasters will report on every tiny update of Rooney's recovery, such is the perceived interest from a captive audience.

Sponsors too will be sweating on the scan results. Rooney represents Coca-Cola and Nike to name but two, and millions of dollars are riding on the exposure Rooney would have given his sponsors' branding and products in South Africa.

Football may still be a team game on the pitch but Rooney's injury and the global reaction to it is just the latest example of how some elite stars of soccer have a gravity all of their own. Let's hope that Crisitano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi avoid a similar fate.

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Filed under:  Football
March 31st, 2010
08:33 AM ET

Is Andy Murray living the dream?

When is a dream job not a dream job? When it’s not fulfilling your dreams. Andy Murray’s startling admission that he no longer enjoys playing tennis might be construed as a knee-jerk reaction to his early exit from the Sony Ericsson Open, but I prefer to think of it as one the most honest admissions from a sports star that I’ve ever heard.

Andy Murray has admitted that he no longer enjoys playing tennis
Andy Murray has admitted that he no longer enjoys playing tennis

But how can he be sick of tennis? He’s living the dream. A highly paid wealthy young man, regularly ranked among the top four in the world, who travels the globe being feted wherever he goes, staying in the best hotels in the best locations, and his only obligation is to hit a furry ball over a net more often than the other guy. What’s not to love? Well, on the surface, I’d agree with you. From the outside, the life of a top-class tennis player does seem like a fantasy camp. But as one who’s glimpsed it from the inside, as a journalist not a player you understand, I can somewhat appreciate how these superstars might become disenchanted from time to time.

Here at World Sport for example, we often conduct interviews via satellite. But what you don’t see at home is the interviewee doing a string of interviews before and after ours, with each one needing to appear fresh despite the fact that they’re being asked similar questions over and over again. A recent interview with the Williams sisters springs to mind in which everything about their off-camera body language suggested they didn't want to be there. To their credit, that didn't show on camera, and that's what matters. But it did offer a glimpse into their world, where there's a never ending need to be “on”.

Then there’s life on the road, where, never mind the travel and the desire to climb into bed after a long flight, the players often have to get down to business right away, as matches and practice times are obviously arranged in sync with the locals not the visitors. Can you imagine how wearing that must be?

Plus, there’s the routine of it all. Apart from the training, and I’ve heard of few players who like training, there’s the sheer number of tournaments you have to play. Sure, every player can get up for the slams and some of the Masters events, but they are not your bread and butter. And I can’t believe your umpteenth trip to the "Back of Beyond Open" can be that inspiring however much you’re being paid. But, like the office worker dragging himself out of bed and onto the subway on a Monday morning, you have to deliver because that’s what you bought into by going pro.

Finally, there’s the constant need to explain yourself. If you win, why did you win? How do you feel about winning? Can you win again? What about Roger, Rafa, Novak etc. Can they be beaten? How can you beat them? Yada yada, yada. And it gets even worse if you’re defeated. In my experience, a post-match news conference is like self-flagellation for the loser, requiring a player to beat themselves up in public and explain every missed step. “So, Andy, how do you feel after that triple bagel?” Aaargh!

Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the price of success and fame has to be paid. But I can’t help but sympathize with Andy when he says that he’s “temporarily” fallen out of love with the whole shebang. He's not a miner digging coal, of course, but tennis is his job, and it’s impossible to love your job all the time. Well, apart from my job that is. Now I AM living the dream. Except that……well, maybe that’s best left for another time.

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Filed under:  Tennis