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Wayne's world unravels as EPL loses lustre

sports Updated: Dec 17, 2010 10:08 IST

AFP
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The fluctuating fortunes of Wayne Rooney this year once again highlighted English football's age-old tendency of flattering to deceive as the Premier League lost some of its sparkle.

Rooney was the toast of England in May after a barnstorming domestic campaign which saw him finish with 34 goals for Manchester United while scooping the Players' Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year awards.

While Rooney's heroics were not enough to prevent Chelsea winning a Premier League and FA Cup double, the striker's form left England in buoyant mood as they headed to South Africa for the World Cup.

Rooney, in the form of his life and benefiting from a maturity conferred on him by fatherhood, was finally ready to end England's long wait for international glory, or so the most optimistic forecasts predicted.

But after one inept performance was followed by another, England and Rooney were dumped out of the tournament, the nadir coming in a 4-1 debacle at the hands of Germany in the last 16.

In the inquest that followed, all the familiar theories were trotted out to explain yet another English failure: the lack of a centre of excellence, poor coaching, a supposedly clueless manager.

But when it came to explaining Rooney's abysmal contribution to the English effort, the punditocracy was left stumped.

The first clues to Rooney's slump emerged, however, in early September when the News of the World published lurid allegations detailing Rooney's liasions with a prostitute while wife Coleen was pregnant.

But the biggest bombshell dropped in October, when, after intense speculation about strains between Rooney and United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the player confirmed he wanted to leave the club.

Rooney -- whose poor form had continued throughout the early part of the season -- insisted his desire to move was driven by concerns over United's ability to attract top players, rather than money. Not everyone was convinced.

"Who's the whore now Wayne?" read one banner unfurled by disgruntled United supporters at Old Trafford as the saga reached boiling point.

Yet just as it seemed there was no way back for Rooney, United and the player's representatives announced a new five-year deal.

The final outcome fuelled the suspicion Rooney's stance had been motivated by cold, hard, cash and the prospect of a double-your-money move across town to Manchester City.

Rooney's threat to leave did, however, draw attention to the fading financial muscle of United, who as yet have not managed to replace the departed Cristiano Ronaldo -- sold to Real Madrid in 2009 for a world record 80 million pounds -- with a player of similar calibre.

Indeed the Premier League as a whole increasingly struggles to attract the cream of world football to English shores.

When the long list for the FIFA 2010 Ballon D'Or award was announced in October, only three Premier League players -- Chelsea's Didier Drogba, Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas and Sunderland's Asamoah Gyan -- were included.

Tellingly, not a single English footballer made the 23-man list, which was whittled down to three names Barcelona's Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

Another indicator the Premier League's claim to be the best domestic championship in the world was under threat came in the Champions League.

After providing at least one finalist for every year since 2005, this year's tournament saw Premier League representation terminated at the quarter-final stage. It was the worst showing by English clubs in Europe's elite competition for seven years.