Wayne Rooney is well versed in causing controversy. It seems to be as natural to him as goal scoring. But his latest episode, the red card earned against Montenegro for petulantly kicking out, is the first time his actions have had a lasting impact.
Normally following a Rooney discrepancy, England are out of the tournament within the hour. This time it hasn’t even begun, and Rooney has already put his country in a precarious position. He is set to miss at least one of England’s group games at next years European Championship, with UEFA able to impose a three match ban should they choose.
It is one of the foibles of the Euro’s that the group stage is harder to qualify from than it is in the World Cup. There will, to use a cliché, be no easy games. So while in South Africa 2010 England played Algeria, the likeliest “weak” opponents in this competition will be Sweden, Turkey or the Czech Republic.
The fact that Rooney, undoubtedly England’s best player, will be missing from these games opens up the real possibility that England will not even get out of their group.
So what of Rooney? It is high time that he grew up. He is no longer the reckless kid who burst on to the international scene. In 2006 when he stamped on Ricardo Carvalho in the World Cup quarter-final, he was just 20 and still a boy in a man’s game. Now he is two weeks short of his 26th birthday. He can have no excuses.
It must be down to his club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, to get hold of his player and instil a sense of calm. Ferguson has dealt with fiery characters before. Players such as Roy Keane and Eric Cantona at times had outrageous moments of madness, but he was largely successful at getting the best out of them.
The irony here is that it will be Ferguson who benefits most from the whole situation. England manager Fabio Capello has said that he will not pick Rooney to start any game from now until the championship, meaning that Manchester United will get a fit and fresh Rooney for the rest of the season. Sir Alex must be rubbing his hands together gleefully.
It is somewhat fortunate that England’s striking options are plentiful. Players such as Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge have started the season in great form for their clubs, and will get the opportunity to impress at international level in the coming months.
In a sense, the fact that Capello and England have to go on without Rooney might be a blessing in an angry disguise. It gives others a chance to stake their claim for a starting place, and might encourage others to take responsibility. Rooney has, for some seven years now, carried the weight of expectation of a nation on his shoulders.
If he is freed from some of this burden, he can express himself in the latter stages of Euro 2012 with match winning performances rather than acts of petulance. Hopefully this incident means that it is out of his system and England can end their final game of Euro 2012 with eleven men on the field - Rooney being one of them.