The fan - Hunter Davies wonders if footballers can be geniuses
Wayne Rooney, unlike Michael Owen, does not suffer from humility
Is Wayne Rooney a genius? Can any footballer be a genius? Whatever happened to Michael Owen? Was he a genius? There are just so many difficult questions around at the moment. Why do footballers never dye their hair black? Now that is a hard one. I won't even try to explain it.
After one game for Man United, Rooney was hailed as the greatest Man U player in the history of civilisation as we know it - civilisation as we used to know it, looking back to players we never saw, games we weren't at, times we never experienced, but still confident enough to compare like with unlike and say: "Arise, Sir Wayne, a verie parfait knight." Apart, of course, from his horrible complexion, crap hair and disappearing eyes. And that he did nothing in his second game.
While the media have been ape-shitting, the real experts have been advising caution. Fergie, his manager, talks about Rooney's potential, about what might be "when Wayne gets over the adolescent development". Sensible Uncle Arsene predicts that Rooney will be at his best at 25, 26, and then he should really be something. Me, I think this is obvious, boring, not to mention cobblers. I say bugger the future: let it take care of itself. A phenomenon is here and with us. The chances are that the best is NOW, for the simple reason that, although he might get more pots, he won't get better.
All walks of life, all activities, throw up geniuses from time to time, even in areas of life not always rated by virtually everyone else. I've met loads, from Lennon and McCartney to Alfred Wainwright. Now he was unique. Just look at his seven Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells. Who else would have thought of doing them that way, entirely in his own hand, as fresh today as when the first book appeared 50 years ago?
Rooney has arrived fully formed at 18, the finished article. He can do everything in football, put his own boots on with either hand, wipe his bum while heading, pull on his own shirt, though in that first game he found it difficult. Did you notice that rip at the collar? I thought it was a fashion statement, a throwback to the 1930s, when shirts were laced up at the front. Next day in Cockermouth Main Street, everyone was talking about it. Ron, who sells me football memorabilia, said he knew for a fact that Rooney had split his shirt when putting it on - because his head is too big. Got good contacts, my friends in Cockermouth.
Rooney's incredible self-belief is a mark of his genius. Geniuses tend to have it, though the formula doesn't work the other way. Think of the prats you know who are convinced of their own genius. Rooney retains the arrogance of youth, which is not surprising. He was hailed as a boy wonder while still in nappies and, so far, nothing has gone wrong: everyone still tells him he's brilliant, so how could he not be confident? But more than that, he is a cocky little bastard.
And this is where he differs from Michael Owen. Little Michael was equally amazing at 18; three years later, he scored those wonderful goals against Germany. He was a free spirit; nothing seemed to trouble him - but, looking back, flicking through my mental video, I now see that Owen was confident rather than cocky. A big difference. Confidence can be dented. During his non-scoring spells at Liverpool, and for England, you could sense the nerves, the stiffening of the muscles during the fluffed chances. Deep down, Owen has doubts.
Rooney, on the other hand, does not suffer from humility. His ego, like his body, appears intact, bulletproof. Clearly, he can't yet be compared with the greats of the past - or even the present. He has done nothing, won nothing, has hardly started his career. And aesthetically, he will never compare with Pele, George Best or Thierry Henry.
Perhaps he won't even have a career. Injury, loss of form, drink,
drugs, gambling, women, too much easy money, too much fame, his big head, a nasty manager or plain boredom might well ruin his potential. We can all predict what he might win one day, but as a player, playing for our enjoyment and his own, this is his peak. Naturally, we all hope that Rooney will stay at that peak, but at 18 going on 19, he is as good as he'll ever get. Enjoy.