Alex Ferguson has decades of experience behind him but Andre Villas-Boas could prove age is nothing but a number.
|Rooney’s red card during England’s Euro 2012 qualifer in Podgorica is unlikely to affect his global appeal [GALLO/GETTY]|
A history of red cards and losing his temper? No problem.
Occasional off-field misbehaviour, including marital infidelity? That’s OK.
Father interviewed by police about alleged match fixing? Can overlook that.
Wayne Rooney’s chequered personal history has the football purists wringing their hands in dismay. But when it comes his global marketability, the sometimes-dubious exploits of the Manchester United star can actually serve to enhance his appeal.
As the Liverpool-born striker prepares to enter his late 20’s (he turns 26 on October 24), he shows few signs of growing up, despite almost a decade as a professional and more than eight years as an England international.
It is probably a fair bet to assume that during his post-playing career that Rooney’s maturity and wisdom will be comparable to that of Paul Gascoigne and the late George Best.
And his lack of the smooth media skills of former pros like Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker means that he’s never likely to be sharing sharp, analytical insights on cosy TV couches.
But Rooney’s brawling, street footballer image is what many fans love most about him.
Here’s a man who will lose his cool against Montenegro with qualification for Euro 2012 all but sewn up – simply because he is ‘in the moment’, contesting every kick as if his life depended on it. He will never be a ‘big picture’ kind of guy.
“We knew what Rooney was like and these kind of events only really serve to confirm what we thought he was: a very talented, badly behaved footballer,” said Nathaniel Milner of sports marketing company, VSM.
|Not quite a Brand Beckham sheen, but Rooney’s is still as lucrative [GALLO/GETTY]|
“He was never going to be the glamorous Beckham-esque poster boy for every grooming product and personal care brand.
“What’s happened may not even affect his appeal in the short term. Last year, Nike even used his off field issues and subsequent loss of form to very publicly rehabilitate him in the US to the current, on-field Wayne Rooney.”
This week, his club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, publicly defended his favourite forward, saying that Rooney’s temperament had improved and that having a fiery streak wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It is noticeable that Rooney is usually better behaved when wearing the red of Manchester United compared to the white of his country.
His Montenegro meltdown saw him join ex-teammate David Beckham as the only England players to have been red-carded twice.
As repeated national coaches have failed, Sir Alex has mastered the knack of not only keeping a lid on the Rooney rage – but channelling it to great effect.
As a result, he’s scored 18 goals in his last 21 Premier League appearances ahead and only three in his last 18 England caps.
Rooney may one day reflect on an England career that failed to match his Old Trafford achievements, but that isn’t likely to affect his earning ability, given how big the Manchester United brand has become.
Even Sir Alex – and his possible Red Devils’ successor Jose Mourinho – have surreptitiously devalued the international game by suggesting that the UEFA Champions League had overtaken the FIFA World Cup in becoming the new benchmark for the sport.
The fact that Rooney’s suspension means that he will be missing for the start of Euro 2012 merely gives marketers a new angle to pursue: the comeback kid.
He will have the chance to jump to his nation’s rescue and return as their talisman in Poland and Ukraine next June – assuming England make it beyond the knockout stages.
“The majority of major sponsors are in the US and it is an undeniable fact that Americans love a comeback story,” said the San Diego-based Milner.
“Amongst the most heavily endorsed athletes in the world today are Michael Vick, Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan who’ve had alleged off-field issues including adultery, dog fighting, drugs and sexual assault.
“Their popularity and skill on the field are always going to outweigh these issues and the larger brands know this.”
Milner pointed out that Rooney’s most lucrative endorsements with companies like Nike and EA Sports were heavily focused on his on-field performance instead of his public persona.
“Even though he (Rooney) is a global star with all the trappings of success, the young male working class demographic can identify because they still see him as one of them.”
Niall Donnelly, of Hong Kong media firm Two Up Front, added: “Even though he is a global star with all the trappings of success, the young male working class demographic can identify because they still see him as one of them.”
On Manchester United’s Asian tour in 2009, a group of Malaysian Chinese fans at Kuala Lumpur’s National Stadium weren’t totally joking when they announced on national television that Rooney was their favourite player because: “He is fat, just like us.”
While it is inaccurate to describe a wonderful athlete like Rooney as overweight, his chunky frame doesn’t sit easily in the designer clothing that Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo or Fernando Torres might wear and no amount of advanced hair treatment will turn him into a pin-up boy.
The fact that he does break the mould – and pushes the boundaries of acceptable on-and-off field behaviour – only adds to his mystique.
There is always a line that cannot be crossed, but as Philadelphia NFL quarterback Michael Vick has shown, there can still be good money to be made, even after a lengthy jail sentence, as long as the former felon can do the business on the field.
The key is to have a sharp marketing and PR team around for damage limitation, effortlessly turning apparent stumbling blocks into stepping-stones. That’s why Rooney’s Podgorica pot-shot will be long forgotten when he becomes England’s saviour at the Euros.
Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever, the world’s first international soccer podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey
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