At 27, Wayne Rooney is already a bona fide Manchester United legend. His goals are watched and analyzed around the world, his jerseys sell in ridiculous numbers, and his statistics speak for themselves. United recently unveiled a statue of Sir Alex Ferguson, and, if Rooney plays his cards right, he could be next in line for the bronze treatment.
Between games, or perhaps during summer vacations, Rooney has also managed to publish two autobiographies. Neither is very good.
Rooney’s new memoir, My Decade in the Premier League, picks up where Rooney: My Story left off. My Story was released about ten minutes after England’s penalty-shootout loss to Portugal in the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup. Red-carded midway through that game’s second half, Rooney had just become a national pariah, and, once he’d reached pariah-status – well, a book was inevitable.
The debate over whether the offense that earned Rooney that red card – “stamping” on Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvahlio – was indeed an intentional act of violence, as the ref believed, or merely a misunderstanding traceable to Rooney’s reputation for impulsive thuggery isn’t nearly as central to this latest autobiography. As Sir Alex Ferguson reminds us in the forward, My Decade is about a mature, level-headed Rooney, a Rooney for whom impulsive thuggery is a thing of the past.
This Rooney is humbler than the one who stamped on Carvahlio, but he – or, at least, Matt Allen, the ghostwriter – is still pathologically incapable of interesting writing. My Decade charts Rooney’s 10 years of Premier League football – from his Goodison debut to United’s heartbreaking match at the Stadium of Light – in unbearable detail, devoting many, many pages to condensed reports of what feels like every Manchester United game ever played. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – plenty of footy buffs love to read about long-forgotten matches – but these particular reports sound as if they were written by a second-grader, or at least by someone with a second-grader’s eye for nuance: “Alan Smith gets one. I score. Ronaldo, 44 minutes. It’s a shooting gallery.”
Rooney is much more interested in rehashing the goals, the titles, and the amazing heroics than in telling us why, for example, he conducted a six-month affair with a prostitute. On the rare occasions when he does evaluate his various misdeeds, he’s suspiciously evasive and boring: apparently, he “blacked out” after scoring his hat trick penalty against West Ham and realized only later that Sky had beamed his celebratory f-bombs into millions of living rooms across the globe.
Perhaps the key difference between My Story and My Decade is that this Rooney accepts the reality that, someday, he’ll no longer be able to play professional football. “There is one small paranoia,” he writes. “Like any player I’m fearful of getting a career-ending injury. I could be in the best form of my life and then one day a bad tackle might finish my time in the sport. When I was a lad, I thought I’d be able to play football forever. These days, I know it’s not going to last.”
At times, Rooney’s tone is weirdly depressing – it’s at these points, with dolefulness turned up to 11, when he’s least convincing. It’s as if Rooney – or Matt Allen, or whoever – were torn between writing a fun, happy-go-lucky account of life in the Premier League, on the one hand, and spitting out an “honest” version replete with the platitudinous “insights” that certain fans enjoy, on the other. Sure, Rooney’s willing to reflect, but only in the robotic language of someone who feels obliged to say something profound.
Believe it or not, it is possible for a footballer to write a genuinely entertaining autobiography. Jamie Carragher’s Carra is an engaging, well written and, above all, funny take on Liverpool’s recent frustrations, and Roy Keane’s book is punchy and incisive. Sadly, Rooney fails to emulate his colleagues. Each chapter of My Decade gets its own personal cliché – “Desire,” “Graft,” “Passion” – and, as if he doubts the reader’s comprehension skills, Rooney finishes every other paragraph with an italicized summary sentence. The reviewer doesn’t like this book.
Nor does Rooney have anything remotely original to say about larger footballing issues. Video evidence should be made available to referees; clubs shouldn’t pay out more than they can afford; players should spend less time in casinos and more time with their families; etc. Rooney’s opinions are designed to offend as few people as possible, and, as such, they don’t resemble the thoughts of an actual human being. I can just about live with the fact that Wayne’s Worldview will always be carefully choreographed, probably by someone other than Rooney himself; it’s the transparent laziness of this bullshit that’s truly offensive.
At one point, Rooney compares the frustration of sitting on the sidelines to the impossible-to-fully-comprehend-unless-you’ve-been-there-yourself suffering of a drinker who, for unspecified reasons, has to go without beer: “What’s somebody going to be like if they can’t have beer for eight months? They’re not going to be able to wait until they get to the pub for the first time and have a beer. And that beer’s going to taste great.” This is colossally dumb, but, ultimately, it serves a useful purpose, if not quite the purpose it was intended to serve. My Decade doesn’t make you want to go outside and kick a ball around; it makes you want to drink – and drink a lot, and for a very long time.