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Saturday, April 23, 2011

India's World Cup hero MS Dhoni sets the standard of behaviour for Manchester United's Wayne Rooney

Pasty white, squinting, chest out, shoulders back, face contorted in what — anger? Scorn? The Wayne Rooney of Saturday was not a comely vision, either for little hero-worshippers in red shirts or the Manchester United commercial department. 


His was the aggression of the “what are you looking at” variety that casts a wretched shadow over someone’s walk to school. He didn’t seem to have been provoked, he wasn’t muttering into his shirt, he couldn’t claim to have been caught behind the scenes –the plonker strutted up to a television camera and swore repeatedly into it.
Footballers don’t ask to be role models (though they are generally happy to take the endorsements that thrust them further into the public eye) and they should be cut a bit of slack in their personal lives.
They should be as free to jiggle lovers, drink flamboyant cocktails and generally make fools of themselves as the rest of us — and live with the consequences.
But they are paid such a grossly distorted amount of money — Rooney earns a basic £160,000 a week just from Manchester United — that they can be expected to do two things while on the pitch: play beautifully and behave like a decent human being.
A two-match ban handed out to Rooney seems fair enough, lax even. Any teacher who swore at her pupils would be swiftly suspended, as would a broadcaster daft enough to tell their audience to get lost or a shop assistant who squared up behind the counter and shouted at the people leaning over the freezer cabinet.

Of course, a shop assistant is not surrounded by 34,546 fans at Upton Park, many of them shouting vile abuse themselves. But from my recollections of working in a bakery, nor are you likely to be rewarded with mass adulation – though you do get the odd bun.
Testosterone can take you a long way, but it doesn’t defend you from looking like a thug. Especially if you are earning not far short of £42million over five years rather than £5.93 an hour (the minimum wage).
It doesn’t have to be this way. On the same Saturday, over on the other side of the world, another man was under more pressure than even Rooney could imagine.
A small town-boy, sturdy, stubbly and with a most magnificent nose, MS Dhoni was leading India in their pursuit of the cricket World Cup against Sri Lanka. India expected, the astrologers had predicted, it was now up to Dhoni to orchestrate victory.
This victory, it was said, would unite the nation, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor and give Sachin Tendulkar his first World Cup trophy at probably his last tournament.
There was not a seat in the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, tickets had sold for 12 times the asking price, 67.6 million were watching on television in India alone. The din was transcendental, the weight on Dhoni’s shoulders oppressive. Yet there he was, ridiculously, unbelievably, calm.
He promoted himself up the order, above Yuvraj Singh, and from a run of poor form produced one of the greatest innings in World Cup history. That six that won the Cup, high into the exploding Mumbai sky, was icing so pink and delicious it was almost sickly.
Never will he play a more rewarding shot. And yet, though he gave himself perhaps a fraction of a second too long to admire the ball sailing into the night, there were no foul-mouthed celebrations to camera. Just embraces with team-mates and worthy handshakes with opponents. It is rumoured that he celebrated that night by watching the final repeated on television.
Dhoni is no puritan, he is paid handsomely for his endorsements, and has a fleet of steely motorbikes and an array of cars in his garage.
His rewards are many and varied — the village where he was born, Lwali in the Almora district, is now to have a new road because of his exploits. But in the pressure-cooker of Indian cricket, which can be as vituperative as any football-fan site in the UK, he has managed to keep his head.
Could Rooney learn from him? Who knows, but in the end his biggest punishment will be in how he is remembered. Only he can decide whether he wants his legacy to be that of a brilliant footballer who fulfilled his youthful promise or as a talent tarnished by his inability to control his temper.
And although he is only 25, time is running out.

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