Neil Humphreys: Why Rooney is an easy target for critics
United skipper's demise makes him too close for comfort
Louis van Gaal's anger was palpable. The question was about Wayne Rooney.
It's always about Wayne Rooney.
The Manchester United manager said that he was sick of answering questions about his skipper's form and wouldn't entertain any further interrogations.
But the Dutchman is the architect of his own irritation. He continues to pick the most polarising footballer in the English Premier League.
Rooney's fruitless toiling against Manchester City on Sunday is only part of the problem.
For years now, the United skipper has been penalised for what he isn't, rather than what he is.
Rooney is, of course, the shining embodiment of all that is supposedly wrong with over-paid, overindulged local talent, earning a premium for being an indigenous star in the world's most over-hyped league.
That's already enough to earn the rancour of the hand-wringing crowd, those fed up with the greed and runaway egos of the average modern EPL employee.
But the distaste for Rooney clearly goes deeper. The antagonism appears nastier, more targeted.
His failings are amplified, his mistakes over-analysed. Each poor performance - and there have been a few of late - triggers the kind of screeching and wailing usually reserved for national disasters.
When he breaks England's scoring record, reaching 50 goals for his country, the milestone is met with cynicism. Sir Bobby Charlton scored his goals at World Cup Finals whereas Rooney chalked up his against the likes of San Marino.
Just a cursory glance at the online forums, both in Singapore and the UK, hint at a level of vitriol that seems out of all proportion to the guy's supposed crimes.
The goals have dried up for United, Rooney has scored only 12 in 2015. The legs have gone. As a striker, he's not quite a spent force, but the sell-by-date is fast approaching.
Still, he hasn't shot anyone.
But he isn't Cristiano Ronaldo either. That's the nuts and bolts of the issue. It's not business. It's strictly personal. Even now, the Portuguese deserter remains more popular than the English loyalist with United's rank and file.
RON THE GOD
Through excellent PR management, Ronaldo has morphed into a tanned deity, a bronzed god who once graced Old Trafford with his presence.
He is the ultimate, aspirational athlete, a role model for our children and a long-standing man-crush for the child within.
Rooney is the huffing-and-puffing burly Brit with the hair weave. He's the monolingual council estate bruiser with ruddy cheeks and a funny accent.
To borrow the line from Nixon, when we see Ronaldo, we see who we want to be. When we see Rooney, we see who we really are.
He's everyman but not necessarily in a positive way. He comes with built-in weaknesses and recognisable faults.
He shouts at booing supporters, like we might. He struggles in front of a camera, as we would. He's a sweat-drenched mess after 90 minutes, his face a picture of exhaustion, just as we are.
He's fallible. Just like us.
All footballers are, but Rooney is too close for comfort. While Ronaldo somehow defies his birth certificate, Rooney projects the ageing process. He's all too human in that regard. Just like us.
But we do not earn £300,000 ($642,000) a week to fail in our workplace, so we lash out at those who do, savaging Rooney for the very shortcomings that afflict us all.
That's not to say that the United skipper is not deserving of criticism. He's the slowest, weakest link in a side starved of speed.
But the abuse intensifies because Rooney's fortunes have mirrored those of England and, to a lesser extent, the domestic league itself.
ROON THE HUMAN
Explosive in 2002, hypnotic and global in 2004, half-baked in 2006, abject in 2010 and irrelevant by 2014, Rooney's rise and fall follow that of his country.
England's dreams and crushing disappointments were foisted onto one man.
Rightly or wrongly, the striker has come to define English football's stagnation: rich, famous, successful but crushingly anti-climactic.
Rooney needs to be urgently rested and the visit of Middlesbrough for the League Cup on Thursday morning (Singapore time) offers a face-saving opportunity.
His weary body cannot stand up to United's hectic schedule. The brawny, perfectly formed physique was a blessing at 16. At 30, it's a curse.
Van Gaal persists with the belief that he's picking England's great white hope. But Superman left the building years ago. The cape came off in his mid-20s.
Rooney really is just a regular guy struggling with a failing body. He's an everyman of the wrong kind. He's one of us.
And that's the last thing supporters want to see. They watch the Premier League to escape, not to look in a mirror.
It is clear that playing him up top on his own, often with his back to goal, is not working. He should have been behind the main striker... Rooney slowed play down because he can longer get the ball, face up to a defender and fly by him.
— Former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas
ROON’S STATS AGAINST CITY
SHOTS ON TARGET