SOMETIMES being a football writer requires moral judgement. Tuesday night was one of those rare occasions.
When Wayne Rooney, the current subject of intense media scrutiny, waltzed in to score England’s opening goal in Basel during England’s rousing 3-1 win over Switzerland, we were confronted with a real condundrum.
Here’s a rich young bloke who paid for sex while his wife Colleen was pregnant producing the vital goal in the biggest qualifying game of England’s 2012 European Championship campaign.
Read that again. It’s a long sentence but it’s fact. Does scoring on the field make him a national hero when he paid £1,000-a-night to score off it? Is the man we cruelly call Shrek a brave, unattractive working class lad triumphing in the face of adversity or an overpaid, nasty piece of work waving two fingers at civilised society?
Remember, this is the £120,000-a-week Manchester United star who previously found himself paying a grandmother for sex when he was engaged to the delightful Colleen in 2004. And, apparently beset by fears over the latest revelation, he was a real let down at the World Cup. Oh, he smokes too. And drinks. And urinates in public.
But like it or not, he’d gone out there and done the business with born-again boss Fabio Capello admitting: “The pressure was on Rooney, but he played very well. The players want to play without other things on their minds. They can focus on the game alone. He did that. He and the others were happy at the end."
Of course, there are other less philosophically taxing subjects to dwell on. The emergence of young Manchester City winger Adam Johnson, who scored his second goal in as many games, and has yet to be revealed doing anything immoral. And he’s more handsome than Rooney.
Or Sunderland’s rugged top scorer Darren Bent, slotting calmly the third goal against the only side to beat Spain during the World Cup, despite being over-looked for South Africa. Now there’s a courageous substitute.
But no, God declared we must make a moral judgement on Rooney, proudly beating his drum while Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe were carted off on stretchers.
Ultimately, the verdict has to be the truth. Rooney’s a talented footballer, but – like John Terry and Peter Crouch – that can never overcome our disgust at his off-field antics. Well played Rooney, now sort yourself out. End of. For your son Kai’s sake.
And then there’s Scotland. Five hundred years of border skirmishes and imperialist guilt leave our northern neighbours with a curious place in our hearts. But when they produced the 97th minute winner against minnows Liechtenstein at Hampden Park, there was another dilemma.
Do we celebrate their expected 2-1 triumph over a bunch of part-timers who kicked them off the park? Or do we lament the visitors’ inability to complete one of the greatest shocks in modern football?
No dilemma here for me. Well done Scotland, bring on Spain and the Czech Republic. Liechtenstein put the boot in and got nowt for it.
Elsewhere, two sets of minnows did pull it off. Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic with a population of just 600,000, beat neighbourhood giants Bulgaria 1-0 to join England at the top of Group G. Lithuania went to the Czech Republic and won 1-0. Wonderful stuff.
France began their Laurent Blanc-led rehabilitation from internal troubles in South Africa with a 2-0 win over Bosnia, leaving banned-for-eternity villain Nicolas Anelka the only unhappy Frenchman in the world.
Germany continued the form which saw them finish third in the World Cup, crushing Azerbaijan (admittedly, hardly a world force) 6-1 with their ironic blend of Aryans, immigrant sons and foreign born citizens. Love that one.
Fallen giants Italy finally discovered how to score again, crushing the not-so-mighty Faroe Island fishermen 5-0 while Sweden went one better against the principality of San Marino. The Republic of Ireland duly annihilated tiny Andorra to go top of Group B.
And there’s the moral question again. How can we write about huge European Championship performances when your brain is telling you these are just a bunch of big bullies crushing the footballing life out of the poorly-resourced underdogs?
So let’s turn to the world champions. Spain, fresh from their World Cup success at Soccer City, found themselves trumped 4-1 by Argentina. At last, a result without the need for a moral philosophy. Spain scored a record low of seven goals to conquer the world in June and July. Glad to see them beaten.
Mind you, those Dutch cloggers from the final, Holland, saw off Finland 2-1. Hmmm.
Okay let’s finish with Norway. Unfashionable, chilly, beset by dodgy fjords, woeful winters and ice bergs. But they were one goal better than Portugal’s sun-tanned millionaires.
Another great night of European qualifiers. And being fickle sports lovers, all England will rejoice at Rooney’s success. It’s a man’s game, football. We know that much now. But somehow, I can’t help feeling he’s cheated on all of us.
A bit like those Pakistan cricketers really.