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15 October 2016

To everything, there is a season – as Wayne Rooney is discovering

I’ve long felt that he should have gone abroad five years ago, forced himself into a new life, a new culture, new football routines. 

By Hunter Davies

Roy Hodgson (don’t say you’ve forgotten him) observed to a friend of mine, a football agent, that Wayne Rooney was a 30-year-old playing like a 35-year-old, whereas Jamie Vardy was a 29-year-old playing like a 22-year-old. It was a smart observation, not that it did Roy much good. He got the push a few weeks later.

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that everything has a season – a time to be born, a time to die, a time to weep, a time to laugh. It’s reassuring, as it suggests that all of us, regardless of age, talents, power or position in life, will have our moment in the sun. And also our spells in the shade. So hang in there.

Footballers have short seasons, because they have short careers, so blink and you could miss them at their peak, and then they’re gone. Wayne’s season now appears to have come early in his career, while Jamie’s has come late.

After that dreary, lumpen England game against Malta, Wayne received a few boos from some of the crowd. That was a bit unfair, as he was no worse than the rest of them, but it seems that the Great British Fan – along with the Great British Tabloid – has decided that Wayne’s season is over. It’s a time to weep for him, rather than to laugh with joy.

I suspect that Rooney has been weeping inside, as he is a more sensitive soul than he might appear from the outside – an outside that in his early, wonderful years reminded most fans of a young and rampant tearaway bull, afraid of nothing, notably confident. Even his physique, especially his neck, seems to have softened with age.

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One of the most interesting things that I discovered about him when I ghosted his autobiography in 2006, when he was just 20, was that he liked to sleep with a hairdryer, a fan, the TV or even a vacuum cleaner on: some sort of background noise humming away. I believe it dated to when he was a boy, hearing his mother, back from work, hoovering downstairs while he was upstairs in bed.

The noise reassured him that all was well, and it sent him off to sleep. As a young player, the star of Fergie’s Manchester United, he was still relying on a fan or something similar while in hotel rooms to help him get to sleep.

I thought it might be an insight into his character but I didn’t venture an opinion, as it wasn’t that sort of book. Perhaps it’s a form of nervousness, indicating that he’s a worrier. We know that he is worrying now and upset, as he has been getting shirty with the tabloids. They’re all having a go at him and obsessed by him, as they were at one time with Gazza and Beckham.

So is Wayne’s season over? I’ve long felt that he should have gone abroad five years ago, forced himself into a new life, a new culture, new football routines. That might have given him a new lease. But if we believe in seasons, they can come round again and circumstances can turn, turn, turn – which is presumably what Joe Hart hopes.

We all thought that Andrea Pirlo was finished at 30, that he didn’t have the pace, the puff or the strength to survive being clattered, but a move from Milan to Juventus at 32 resulted in four magnificent years, winning many trophies.

It happens in other fields, too. Writers have late seasons, not being published until their middle or late years. And in politics. At the moment, I am fascinated by Theresa May. She couldn’t have imagined back in her early political career that now, at the age of 60, she would be the Prime Minister.

It’s not her politics that fascinates me, but her looks. We always knew she had good legs, and so did she, otherwise she wouldn’t have drawn attention to them with all those sexy shoes. But suddenly she looks so much more attractive. Is it the hunky male cabinet members flirting with her, as happened to Maggie Thatcher, perking her up? Power is an aphrodisiac. Her skin is glowing and even the bags under her eyes seem softer.

She is certainly enjoying a late-season flourish, which is something we would all like. Aged 80, I tell myself every day that my best season is yet to come . . . 

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This article appears in the 12 Oct 2016 issue of the New Statesman, England’s revenge