When Wayne Rooney first burst onto the Premier League scene as a teenager for Everton, he seemed an exceptional talent and a transfer to Manchester United soon followed. He made his debut with a hat-trick and he has done pretty well since, third highest all time Premier League goal scorer, a reputed £300,000 a week and the current captain of Manchester United and also England. But now he has added to his previous five red cards. What amazed me about his latest offence was the reaction of the BBC commentator on Match of the Day. After the referee had blown for Rooney’s foul on West Ham’s Stewart Downing, he cried out ‘And now the referee has shown him a red card – extraordinary!’ What I found rather extraordinary was that in the Match of the Day programme they seemed to consider the premise that the referee’s decision might have been based on Rooney denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. They dismissed this by showing that there were in fact a number of Manchester United players between Downing and the United goal, seemingly oblivious that the foul took place well inside the West Ham half. What referee is going to consider a goal scoring opportunity that far away from the goal?
For those who may not have seen it, the scenario is a simple one. Manchester left back Luke Shaw tried a lofted pass from the centre circle only for it to be deflected to Downing who then started running with it towards the Manchester half. Rooney sprinted after him and with a waist high kick from behind brought him down. Rooney of course has form for this type of behaviour. In a European Cup qualifying game against Macedonia, he petulantly kicked Miodrag Dzudovic after he lost the ball to him. That meant a ban for the remainder of games in the group stage. This time Rooney himself is reported in saying that the referee was probably right to send him off but it was just a badly timed professional foul. His manager, Louis van Gaal, defended him. ‘Maybe you don’t want to hear it,’ he said, ‘but in professional football you make professional fouls’. Don’t you just hate that term ‘professional foul’? In any other job if you say you are going to provide a professional product or service then you are indicating that it will be top quality, something to be proud of but here it means the opposite, something illegal, something shoddy, something dodgy.
‘I saw Downing making a counter attack and I tried to break up the play,’ said Rooney ‘ I tried to trip him up, but he got father away from me and I just misjudged it’. If we take Rooney’s word that might put it into the realm of ‘Serious foul Play’ but I doubt whether that was what referee, Lee Mason put in his misconduct report. The Laws of the Game says, ‘A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality when challenging for the ball when it is in play’. However if you look at the television replay you will see that the ball was four yards or more in front of Downing. There is no way that Rooney could challenge for the ball and so the only way he could stop Downing was by kicking him and that is ‘violent conduct’. In this instance the length of suspension would probably be the same what ever it was called, although violent conduct which can be against anyone, not just an opponent, may sometimes result in a greater penalty. The point here is let’s not use euphemisms like ‘professional foul’ when what we are talking about is ‘violent conduct’.