What a fascinating entry to international politics for the Football Association, who clearly anticipated the failure of a “red wave” to materialise in the US midterms and had their condemnatory response already prepared. In a move widely seen as the first salvo in a transatlantic cold war that will destroy the imaginary “special relationship”, Wayne Rooney (retired) has been called up for England’s friendly against the USA.
The decision to play Rooney can only – only! – be read as a fantastically pointed insult to the Americans, who may not have qualified for the last World Cup but against whom we are openly fielding a novelty player. You could not send a clearer message to the US, even if you made sure pitchside advertising hoardings throughout the match read ELECT SHIT GET BANGED. And in a very smart two-for-the-price-of-one, the FA also contrived to insult the Nations League, given England’s match with Croatia is the competitive fixture for which the England-USA friendly is notionally the warm-up.
Having said all that, I am concerned to note that among the wider public and pundit class, there still seems to be some failure to grasp that this is what the gesture specifically meant. It is almost as if people have looked at the record of the FA chief executive, Martin Glenn, and concluded he could only ever be clever by accident. Martin’s sole notable success – the exhausted, quarter-hearted process of default by which he hired England’s most successful and popular manager in decades is presumably viewed as a case in point.
Either way, there is much disquiet on the airwaves and internet about the decision to recall England’s top goalscorer for one night only. This is hugely positive. Anger is our last great manufacturing industry and people ranting furiously for or against the Rooney cap on phone-ins and online is productive in the very purest sense of that term. The row over Rooney’s 120th cap is ideal for those who very much want to fit in a November row before December comes around with its annual sports personality of the year row but who feel they honestly have not got another poppy row left in them.
My advice to the FA would be to own this anger and to stage an undercard game before the Rooney one, in which 11 of the former players angrily attacking the decision face 11 of the former players angrily defending it. I imagine it would be fairly evenly matched until injury time, when Ryan Giggs would put the winner past Peter Shilton.
Even as things stand, the Rooney cap should be saluted for the bollocks it has enabled people to talk. According to the England manager, Gareth Southgate, calling up Rooney is something “circumstances have allowed us”, which is an amusingly passive formulation for a pick he supposedly made himself.
But what is the deeper meaning of the thing which circumstances have allowed us? “Acknowledging the Three Lions legacy has been a major part of our journey with this current group of young players,” Southgate wibbled merrily on Monday, “and Wayne Rooney is a hugely significant part of that history.” (Incidentally, I do love it when grown-ups say the Three Lions instead of England, as though they are learning how to speak British slang off a Linguaphone CD. Good luck in your English oral, guys!) For their part, the FA made much of the fact this is a game benefiting Rooney’s charity for disadvantaged children, The Wayne Rooney Foundation.
And so to the nuts and bolts of how Rooney’s 120th cap has been storyboarded to work. As you would expect of a match billed as The Wayne Rooney Foundation International, the FA will be sharing a full 0% of the Wembley gate receipts with The Wayne Rooney Foundation. For now. On the off chance this position does not become so controversial that it has to reverse ferret on it, the FA says fans will be able to put money in buckets outside Wembley and to donate by text and online.
According to some reports, Rooney was expecting to start, having led the England side out wearing the captain’s armband. According to others, he was to come on as a substitute. Keen to smother any misapprehensions in dignified, respectful and non-panicked manner, the FA has reportedly since briefed he will be given five or 10 minutes at the end as a “gesture of goodwill”.
Meanwhile, it seems the England players were not consulted over the specific part of their legacy journey/history lesson that would be Wazza Rooney coming on for one of them. And for my money, we have not heard nearly enough agonising as to whether Rooney should have been allowed to wear the No 10 shirt off the bench (he will not be, apparently).
In conclusion, these are all complex matters and we can only hope England win in every sense. The match could not be higher stakes if it was an early season MLS game. As for the blatant insult to the USA side, the penny has yet to drop with the American public but when it does I think we can expect swift retribution. Economic sanctions? Diplomatic expulsions? Chlorinated chicken off the Brexit menu? It’s unclear at this stage but if were the Global Britain mascot, Liam Fox, I would be in absolute bits about this rapidly developing situation.