I HAVE spoken to Wayne Rooney over the years many times and always found him such an honest, genuine, passionate and caring person.
He is the sort of bloke who would give you his last penny.
But right now he could well be having a tough time as he realises his top-flight career is drawing to an end.
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The story of him sat alone in a casino gambling away half-a-million pounds — as revealed in this paper yesterday — might not draw a lot of sympathy from most.
But the worry, of course, is that he is using this sort of thing to replace the buzz he is losing in his football career.
People will find it hard to have sympathy with footballers because of the huge amounts of money involved.
Let us remember, however, there are also players lower down the leagues not earning in a year what Wayne gets a week.
They too will all face these moments when they know it is coming to an end and no matter how much you earn, that is tough.
I found it tough.
There will be plenty, including Wayne, at this time of the season wondering what is coming next.
I was actually looking forward to the end as my body was in pain and it was all becoming a real struggle.
For the first few months after I had finished I really enjoyed life.
I had spent 20 years being told what to eat, what to wear, where to be when, training day-in, day-out.
Now I was free of all that.
Then the pre-season came around. I was no longer in a dressing room with 20 or 30 mates having a laugh every day.
I no longer had that camaraderie and bond with a group of lads who I went into battle with on a football field every week.
And I was no longer scoring goals in front of thousands and enjoying the feeling that came with that.
I was listless, I was getting grumpy, wondering what the next 40 years held.
It’s not just tough for you but your family as well. You try to find something to replace it but my advice to any player is not to go looking because there is nothing out there that is the same.
You have to adapt to your new life.
I was fortunate in that I was able to go straight into the media. I was in a new dressing room now with the likes of Ian Wright and Lee Dixon on TV.
I was still having to keep across the game to do that and this column every week. It gave me purpose.
I also made sure that I kept myself fit because it is so easy to let yourself go and that will get you down. Yes, I love a pint but I have also been careful that has not become a new buzz as has happened with a lot of ex-professionals.
I am glad that the issue of mental health has been talked about a lot in recent weeks because that is a big issue too when players retire.
As an ambassador for the Premier League now I am active in talking to ex-players about coping with life after football because it is very important.
Believe me, all the people who wanted to be around you when you were playing, agents etc, go missing when you stop kicking a ball.
So people out there who want to give players a bit of a kicking, when they struggle with the ending of their career, need to really stop and think.
Wayne has been one of the greatest players England has ever had. Top scorer for his club and country.
He would not be human if his lack of football for Manchester United now is not getting him down.
Even if he does play on for a couple of years — wherever that might be — it will not replace what he has had at Old Trafford.
When he does stop completely he just needs to be careful, as does any player, and not be afraid to talk to people if life starts to get tough.
One thing he most certainly can do is look back on a career with great pride.
While that might not give him a buzz, it should certainly give him a satisfaction that he has truly earned.
A LOT of memories were shared yesterday as White Hart Lane hosted its final home game. My own one will not be shared by Spurs fans, however.
It came in 1996 as I scored a hat-trick for Blackburn in a 3-2 away win.
The first came after eight minutes from the penalty spot and I added a second after 35 minutes. But we let Spurs back into it, with Teddy Sheringham getting one and Chris Armstrong scoring a late equaliser.
I wasn’t going to settle for the draw and right in the last minute I struck a winner. Surprised I wasn’t invited to the Lane yesterday to relive that!