I’m thinking of complaining to Rupert Murdoch about the acres of Scandinavian forestry cynically squandered by his tabloid editors on Wayne Rooney this week. Vandals. If only the Sun and the News of the World would face the fact that Rooney will never be another Beckham. Why won’t he? It’s harsh I know, but however many goals he scores, he simply isn’t pin-up material. People outside football are into Beckham. People of both genders fancy him rotten. People who loathe and detest all forms of sport, even they have a soft spot for David Beckham. Wayne Rooney? It’s called a charisma by-pass and it’s usually irreversible.
Rooney did return from Portugal a football hero however, and seems to have been somewhat recklessly advised to plunder his new-found Euro 2004 fame at the earliest opportunity. At which point things started going into reverse. His agent immediately booked a very experienced publicist – one Ian Monk – to help generate maximum visibility for his client in the press. Presumably they imagined the massive coverage resulting from signing a deal with News International would add credibility and oomph when it came to negotiating with Everton’s management. Result? Hero to Zero in one weekend: Rooney pilloried in his home city for selling himself to the Sun, with the guilt piled on by the goalmouth. You could almost sense the atmosphere in the murky, smoke-filled backrooms where football wields its power: quitting his club? How dare he! Even worse, that generation-old bad-feeling about the Hillsborough disaster is revived. What a mess. And who seriously wants to read what an 18-year-old thinks? Have you spoken to any 18-year-olds recently? It’s an uphill struggle. Anyway, Rooney, you should still be at school, little tyke. The only place I want to see your ugly mug is on the playing field.
Contrast this debacle with the smooth moves, racing lines and endearing nerve of that master of PR, Mr Formula One himself, Bernie Ecclestone. That’s how to do it. Fed up with boring muddy old Silverstone? Want to persuade people (especially sponsors) that although the Schumacher Age is as dull as the Ice Age was cold, glamour and excitement can still cohabit in the cockpit of a gleaming Formula One racing car, provided the backdrop fits. Monte Carlo, that’s good. Desolate Hungarian hillside? Not so good. Buckingham Palace? Hyde Park Corner? The Ritz? Fabulous. Imagine bringing London all that energy and showbiz and hi-tech and charming Brazilians and Jenson Button and HUGE MONEY and chequered flags and oh, the whole glorious, romantic motor racing circus coming to our capital city! Wow! I want it. And this, from a man (me) who didn’t realise he particularly cared for F1 until he saw it going past Lilywhites and the Victoria Memorial.
Did you see that BBC poll which said 80% of people thought a London Grand Prix ‘an excellent idea’, while only 67% backed the Olympic bid? That’s PR for you: use it carefully and get the results you want, a lesson Rooney’s advisors might heed.