If the Premier League ever adopts a motto, I hope it goes for whatever the Latin is for "Don't hate the game, hate the player". This inversion would certainly bat away those tired charges of top-flight football in this country not being in touch with the most vocal fans. To listen to the prevailing wind since Wayne Rooney's new £300,000-a-week contract with Manchester United was announced last week has been to hear something akin to the sound that reached Obi-Wan Kenobi's ears when the Death Star detonated Alderaan. "As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced."
Except they weren't. They're still crying out, for the most part, rehearsing the usual misdirected lines, including reliably bonkers old favourites such as the fact that Rooney's deal could have paid for 500 nurses. Could it?
Leaving aside the intriguing question of whether it is strictly Manchester United's responsibility to staff the NHS, it does seem a shame that you never hear this argument another way round. No one observes that the cost of the UK's war in Afghanistan thus far could have paid for almost 500 Cristiano Ronaldos, which would have been so much more entertaining for parties on all sides of that continuing misadventure. No banking bailout is considered in terms of how many spellbinding Lionel Messi appearances it could theoretically have furnished us with, even as football's role as a bright spot in otherwise dark lives is constantly trumpeted. Why?
Meanwhile, other than "less", there are differing views on how much football should cost. On Radio 5 Live's 606 at the weekend, one fan railed passionately at the fact that it costs significantly more to watch a football match than a Kevin Costner film. But why should football be pegged to the price of a movie (even a Costner one)? It used to be reckoned a newspaper should cost roughly the same as a cup of coffee. But unfortunately none of these old imagined parities are set in stone – they warp over time, and in some cases implode entirely. Now people want their news free, for instance, and bewildering numbers shell out near to three quid on a cup of coffee. Perhaps football should be like a pay-what-you-want Radiohead album, or one of those restaurants where customers are encouraged to leave what they think their meal was worth. Maybe grounds should install honesty boxes.
In the meantime, society seems equally undecided about how transformative football as a career should actually be. Having always been seen as an impeccably meritocratic way for working-class kids to escape the privations of their lot, the game's boggling powers of social mobility now seem to be the enemy, making moneyed players the most dependable of bogeymen.
For people we might judge to be rather more estimable enemies, of course, this focus is the gift that keeps on giving. The relentless spotlight on pampered individual players with their pampered individual contracts must draw shrieks of delight from everyone from the good burghers of the financial services industry – who have never been snapped smoking a fag on an off-season break to Vegas, but did actually bring the global economy to the brink of collapse – to the various club-owning emirs and assorted moguls presumably relieved that irate fans have no bigger fish to fry. Without wishing to direct the player-haters to The Ladybird Book of How Stuff Works and Why They Keep Getting Away With It, it's just divide and rule. If we're talking about Rooney, we're not talking about them.
Those with true power could only be thrilled by the tenor of the past week. Precisely how rich young working-class men should be is a matter of heated debate – with the last few days of hot air occasionally seeming to indicate that a division has arisen along the lines of the Victorian idea of the deserving and the undeserving poor. There seem to be deserving and undeserving footballers, and Rooney is one of the undeserving, in a way that more innately glamorous players who behave in virtually identical ways never would be judged. I never specifically heard the adjective "uppity" applied to him this week, but I couldn't help but smell its unspoken, implication-loaded presence in some of the diatribes against him.
Presumably those outraged he has accepted the deal offered would rather players were lone socialists at the heart of a capitalist system. I imagine the remunerative template for how they are supposed to behave would be that adopted by Dennis Skinner, who famously donated his MP's salary to the striking miners during various disputes.
In the end, though – just like every individual player who lands a big one – Rooney is singled out because of too many people's absolute insistence upon looking at the wrong thing. Of all our unfortunate national characteristics, this is the one as corrosive as it is dumb: the obedient focus on what amounts to a piece of misdirection while the real trick goes on uninhibited elsewhere.
Not that there shouldn't be huge sympathy for the phone-in caller who rages at the prohibitive cost of taking his family to football, when it was something his parents' generation could afford. It's sad, and unlike other contemporaneous advances it's the sort of "progress" they could have lived without. But unless they want to be part of the problem, then those who don't like capitalism may wish to consider making their target somewhere slightly higher up the food chain than footballers.