Wayne Rooney lost his temper after the England match on Monday and tore into the referee with some foul-mouthed abuse.
I think Wayne’s temper is a good thing. He has that fire in his belly. If you take that away from him then he won’t be the same player.
Matthew Syed has a nice piece that questions this kind of simplistic psychological defence:
The idea that nastiness and aggression are a necessary adjunct to passion is not merely flawed, but deeply pernicious. Are we to believe that Roger Federer — a sportsman of great courtesy — lacks fervour? That Sir Bobby Charlton — a player who never received a booking for dissent — is a bit of a cold fish? Or would we rather say that these great athletes combine a passion no less ardent than Rooney’s but with the kind of civilising restraint that the England striker has yet to learn?
The reality is that respect for the referee and for opponents does not inhibit sporting passion any more than respect for a lover inhibits sexual passion.
Moral categories merely set the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in the same way that the rules of sport set the boundaries of acceptable play. Justifying verbal abuse as a corollary of passion is no less silly than justifying cheating as a corollary of competitiveness. “Take away his inclination to defraud his competitors and you take away his mojo.”
He goes on to make the more general point that in order to be truly effective aggression needs to be channelled and controlled.
You only have to watch Rooney for a game or two to perceive that crude aggression has nothing to do with what makes him tick as a footballer. Quite the reverse. Rooney is among the greatest players in the world when his passion is under control, enabling him not merely to channel his competitive intensity, but also to decode the shifting kaleidoscope of players around him so as to pick out the perfect pass into the path of an on-running team-mate.
It is precisely at the moment when Rooney loses his head that we see him tearing around the pitch haphazardly, lunging dangerously and losing any semblance of his perceptual acuity. It is at precisely this moment that he morphs from footballing colossus into dangerous liability. As any psychologist could tell you, anger rarely sits easily with mental clarity or canny decision-making.
I should make this the first in a series of posts called ‘sporting lessons for life’, but I think there are a thousand books in the shops on that theme already…