Rooney causing angst in English camp

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:49 PM ET

JOHANNESBURG — At times looking more like a soccer hooligan than a global superstar, the dynamic Wayne Rooney is at his most effective when he allows his play to do his talking for him.

It’s when he starts opening his mouth that the lethal English striker gets himself in trouble.

Sure enough, with the clock ticking down on England’s opening World Cup match against the U.S. Saturday, a highly anticipated affair that is expected to draw huge T.V. numbers in both countries, Rooney’s insistence on flapping his gums may potentially have left his team in dire straights.

And all because of two ill-advised words.

When Rooney allegedly told referee Jeff Selogilwe: “F--- you!” during a 3-0 victory over the Platinum Stars during England’s final pre-World Cup tuneup Monday, the implications sliced much deeper than the booking he received for using foul language.

Rooney’s latest temper tantrum has, in fact, caused nation-wide angst among English management, media and fans who fear Rooney’s penchant for snapping on the pitch could severely hinder England’s quest for a second World Cup crown.

Again.

During the 2006 tournament in Germany, Rooney was red-carded for stamping on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho, a meltdown in a highly-contested quarterfinal match that England would eventually lose.

Four years later, there has been an insistence that this version of Rooney has matured and will be much more composed in the heat of battle.

But his recent spurts of erratic behaviour suggests otherwise.

Two weeks ago, his needless reckless tackle on Japan’s Tulio during a friendly in Austria could have very well gotten him booted out. More alarmingly, it was a sign that maybe the old volatile Rooney was rearing his ugly head.

Rooney’s obscene message at Selogilwe has only served to strengthen those fears.

It has been made quite clear that World Cup officials will have zero tolerance when it comes to Rooney’s antics. Crossing the line means hitting the showers. Period.

The paranoia in England over a possible Rooney eruption is widespread. A blaring headline in The Sun, arguably the splashiest of the Fleet Street tabloids, even referred to him as “Vol-Wayne-O,” implying that he could blow his top at any moment.

The Americans know it too, and it will be part of their game plan to goad him into just such an outburst.

“You try to make his day difficult,” U.S. defender Jay DeMerit said. “And if a guy has as much fire as he has then maybe those type of things come out.”

English icon Terry Butcher, who captained England’s 1990 World Cup team, feels Rooney is more than capable of coming unglued with the proper provocation.

“If I was an American defender, I would belt him one,” Butcher told a number of British publications. “The Americans have already said they are going to wind him up. And if I was playing against him I would do the same as well.

“I would stand on his toes, poke him, pinch him and do everything to wind him up — even belt him one because his temperament concerns me.

“If you are successful at winding Rooney up you have a really good chance of not only stopping him, but England as well. Something could always happen with him. Something could snap.”

In a World Cup that seems wide open for the taking, manager Fabio Capello has preached discipline to his team, a commodity England has lacked far too often in the past. This is a side capable of winning the whole thing if it keeps its eye on the prize and stays the course.

The key is Rooney.

Coming off arguably his best season in the Premier League, he could be one of the top impact players in the tournament.

If the Americans have their way, he’ll have an impact, alright — one that will see him sent off, leaving his English side down to 10 players.

Let the battle of wits begin.


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