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Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Rooney's antics overshadow England's strong start


LONDON — Another mad, mad week on Planet Football.

Christopher Davies

Prostitutes as much as points have dominated the headlines, which at least took the spotlight off a grateful Fabio Capello.

Wayne Rooney stereotyped the popular image of the English footballer when he allegedly enjoyed the talents of a lady or two of the night while his wife Coleen was pregnant.

It wasn't the £1,200 the Manchester United striker was supposed to have handed over for services rendered that made this correspondent's head shake.

It was the £200 he coughed up (sorry) for a packet of Marlboros which were delivered to the hotel room.

How do a fool and his money get together in the first place?

The News of the World is said to have had the story before the World Cup finals but didn't want to be seen to be harming England's chances in South Africa . . . so it published it in between two Euro 2012 qualifying ties.

Fabio Capello is a devout Catholic and is bemused by the off-field antics of some of his players.

"It is England," he said with a shrug by way of an explanation.

Peter Crouch, John Terry and Ashley Cole have also hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, yet still footballers seem to believe they can misbehave and get away with it.

Give a young player money and time and trouble will inevitably find him.

Dave the plumber or Len the decorator can quite easily play away from home and not be found out because they are not under forensic scrutiny, but not Wayne the England international.

How on earth can any famous person believe a prostitute, having sold herself, would not sell her story?

Did he not think someone at the hotel would recognize him?

Or the guy who received the tip of his life for a packet of cigarettes might tell his mates?

There were the inevitable headlines about Rooney scoring away from home again as, being in the right place at the right time as opposed to the wrong place at the wrong time, he gave England the lead in its impressive 3-1 win over a woeful Switzerland in Basel.

As Rooney arrived back in England he was greeted by tabloid headlines concerning an airline stewardess who "snubbed" the player's alleged advances while on his stag night.

Another had revelations from two hookers . . . the suspicion is the Sunday papers will also find more revelations.

Rooney's first international goal in 12 games, and his first in open play for anyone since March, put England on the road to victory. It was an outstanding performance achieved without Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard, who have been part of the England furniture in recent years.

Former Everton teammates Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott were solid in the center of defense, while Steven Gerrard, captaining the team brilliantly in his favored central midfield role rather than being shunted wide, was England's best player, his display in Basel and the 4-0 home defeat of Bulgaria raising doubts about Lampard's return.

No midfielder can boast Lampard's goal record, but the midfield of Gerrard, Gareth Barry and James Milner is balanced and effective.

Capello is paid £6 million a year to make such decisions, but a fit-again Lampard is far from certain to return against Montenegro next month even though Milner is suspended.

Will the usually pragmatic Capello be brave enough to play wingers Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson, who scored the second goal in Basel, together?

What might help Lampard is a change of formation to accommodate the long-term ankle injury sustained by Jermain Defoe in Basel.

If Ferdinand proves his fitness after a long layoff, he will probably play alongside Jagielka, leaving ex-captain Terry on the bench.

Whether Ferdinand returns as captain or Gerrard retains the armband is another delicate decision for Capello.

The Italian confirmed he will retire from football after the Euro 2012 finals when he will be 66 — "too old, I want to enjoy life as a pensioner," he said.

* * * * *

ENGLAND may have one foot in Poland and Ukraine for the 2012 finals, but the unbeaten start has not seen the nation organizing street parties.

England qualified for South Africa in some style only for the wheels to come off big time at the finals, the reason for the under-performing humiliation remaining one of life's unanswered questions.

Until we see how England plays at the next major finals, the jury will remain out.

Capello's World Cup management, squad and team selections were shambolic, while few players emerged with any credit. The Italian has relaxed some of his boot camp discipline rules and gave Rooney more of a free role just behind Defoe in Basel.

Hopefully, by the time the Euro finals come around, Capello will fully understand the mentality of the England players — we shall see.

Meanwhile, Rooney must prepare for a hostile and foul-mouthed reception when he returns to Goodison Park on Saturday.

The Everton fans who used to idolize him will no doubt have been rehearsing inevitable chants relating to Rooney's recent nocturnal wanderings — what else can he expect?

Rooney will have to rise to the occasion, but Everton defender Phil Jagielka warned the striker to expect the worst.

"I'm not exactly best of friends with Wayne," he said. "It should be amusing. There's a good chance he'll get slaughtered."

* * * * *

ASTON VILLA fans were generally underwhelmed at what they saw as the uninspired appointment of Gerard Houllier to succeed Martin O'Neill.

Houllier left Liverpool six years ago and has since been working for the French Football Association, not the best organization to have on your CV after their World Cup debacle.

Critics also point out Houllier was the man who preferred to sign El Hadji Diouf rather than Nicolas Anelka, who had been at Anfield on loan.

Villa finished sixth in the last three seasons under O'Neill, and the emergence of Manchester City as serious contenders makes Villa's chances of breaking into the top four virtually impossible without the investment that was at the heart of the Ulsterman's resignation.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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