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Poor little rich boys

The news that Wayne Rooney is considering his future at Manchester United Football Club has certainly attracted a fair deal of attention. The rules of sport reporting demand that transfer speculation is reported in a slightly breathless air, as though the well paid mercenaries of the footballing world had finer feelings invested in their choice of club- well pardon my cynicism, but the Corinthian spirit left sport well before I was born. The levels of money offered to the young men who attempt to entertain us twice a week are beyond the dreams of avarice. Literally millions of pounds are offered, not only in salaries, but sponsoring and marketing deals of all kinds. David Beckham, for example, is certainly worth more than the team to which he is nominally contracted in Los Angeles.

In exchange for the essentially unlimited wealth and heroic levels of adulation given to these footballers, it does not seem too much to expect that they should behave with at least a certain level of grace. Of course many, whatever their skills on the ball, are poorly educated and ill equipped to cope with the "pressures of the game". Well, that is as maybe, but you don't need much brain to understand that consorting with prostitutes is rather seedy- especially if you are married, as Rooney is. So is this one of those rants about the personal behaviour of footballers? Well no, the fact is that many footballers get caught in compromising situations, the problem for Rooney is his attitude in the face of the criticism of his behaviour. His rebellion against the disapproval of his manager has all the petulance of a child. He will not accept discipline from outside, and the repeated allegations of whore mongering that have dogged his career suggest that he lacks the capacity to discipline himself.

Yet Rooney, despite being one of the best paid footballers that has ever lived, is not one of the best footballers that ever lived. His achievements do not match those of previous generations, from Martin Peters or Archie Gemell, to Gary Lineker or Billy Bremner. Rooney was lucky to be in the right place and the right time to collect riches that players such as Pele or Beckenbauer could only dream of. So the very least he can do is show a certain measure of gratitude and humility.

Alas, in Britain today it is not just the "benefit scroungers" that demonstrate a level of entitlement and arrogance that even Milton's Lucifer might struggle to attain. Chris Moyles, the Radio 1 DJ- like Rooney another man of no exceeding talent- demands wealth and recognition that is way above his own fairly modest skills and attainments. It is a standing rebuke to the BBC that in dealing with the so-called "talent", they fail to resist the more outrageous demands for money from people who are already rewarded with more than their measure of wealth and fame.

These two figures are by no means unique, but their arrogance and sense of entitlement will have increasingly short shrift as this new age of austerity begins to bite. We now see the scale of the financial crisis, but understanding it does not yet give us a way forward: we know that whatever happens now, it will involve horrible choices. Thus those whose jobs are essentially entertainers may find that they can no longer rely on the endlessly deep pockets of patrons who have not counted the return on their expenditure. So, Wayne Rooney may find that he can not get a billet as lucrative as the one he now so scorns, while Chris Moyles may find himself returning the wilds of Radio Aire from when he came.

It is the lesson of Icarus: no matter how high you can fly above other men, it is still possible to fall to destruction. The gracelessness and naked greed which Rooney and Moyles have displayed may make their fall a very satisfying morality tale. Fortune is not all a one-way street, and it is as well for all of us to remember that. In the face of life's triumphs and disasters, it is still as well to retain a measure of humility and a sense of proportion.

Sometimes it takes bitter experience to learn that lesson- and I suspect that both Wayne Rooney and Chris Moyles are about to learn the hard way that they are much less valuable than they thought.


You may well be correct on this eventually; I do hope so. There's a long way to go, however, before the triangle of talent/achievement/reward subsides to being a little more equilateral – certainly in the case of box-office footballers.

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