Rooney press conference underlines importance of fronting up

There are plenty of situations in life where difficult conversations are unavoidable.

We’ve all been there in one way or another, either dishing them out or on the receiving end. 

When it comes to running a business, explaining your point of view is vital to ensure stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, employees and investors are fully aware of the services you offer, your points of difference and how your business develops.

Regular media training and message development are vital to hone the skills that not only prepare you for the nice conversations and interviews, but the awkward situations that can affect profits and reputation. 

And it’s the same for those in the public eye, who have to give speeches and media interviews on a regular basis.

When Wayne Rooney burst on the scene as a raw 16-year-old, English football knew that they had a special player on their hands.

Brought up kicking a ball on the streets of Liverpool, Rooney always appeared to prefer letting his feet do the talking despite his high profile and the intense scrutiny which comes with it, giving the impression that interviews and speeches are something he endures rather than enjoys.

With his pace no longer as explosive as it once was, Rooney has been playing in a deeper role behind the forwards for club and country and struggling to impose himself to the point where his starting role has been questioned.

As England’s captain, their most capped outfield player and top scorer, being booed by the home crowd at Wembley despite the team beating Malta must have been hard to take.

But Rooney put on something of a PR masterclass in Slovenia ahead of the World Cup qualifier when he sat next to interim England coach Gareth Southgate after news broke that he had been dropped.

Jordan Henderson, given the captain’s armband in Rooney’s stead, could have attended the press conference to express his pride at taking the role.

Yet Rooney, who was always going to be the back page story given his demotion, sat next to his manager and eloquently expressed his feelings and his continued commitment and responsibility to the squad.

Rooney, remember, has been known for petulance typical of footballers in the past, but his desire to give his side of the story and to face the media who have been so critical of him recently showed qualities of leadership and maturity that were a credit to him.

His decision not to hide in the shadows was not the move of someone refusing to leave the limelight: it was a display of diplomacy, reflection and understanding that allowed him to get his points across rather than let others simply fill the void.

He talked about remaining ready to help the team both on and off the pitch, understanding the controversy that such a managerial decision would provoke and accepting that he is facing his biggest challenge as a player – to re-establish himself as a first choice player for club and country.

Rooney even managed to side-step the opportunity to take out his frustrations on the fans who had booed him, by refusing to acknowledge them and express his understanding that fan reactions are part of football.

Brands and sports organisations can learn a great deal from Rooney’s press conference, mastering the media through training and understanding that to hide from the opportunity to ensure that their voices are heard can often do far more harm than good.