The long game heading inextricably towards Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United exit began in October when the 25-year-old striker publicly questioned the club’s ambition and with it Sir Alex Ferguson’s reputation. Stories that the player is doing the same in private is merely window dressing on the many strategic forces that will drive the player out of Old Trafford this summer. That, at least, is one analysis of the highest profile potential departure in a summer of change at United.
Sunday’s News of the World ‘exclusive’ that Sir Alex Ferguson is now considering a summer exit for the player, who signed a lucrative new contract last autumn, should come as little surprise. While fans will inevitably dismiss the red-top story as a fabrication, it is almost certainly contains some truth, albeit a more nuanced story. Indeed, the line that Rooney’s exit lies in the breakdown of the player’s relationship with his manager is probably just a simple interpretation of an underlying truth.
“Rooney has been moaning about the squad again,” says the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper, quoting an unnamed source.
“But Sir Alex has told him he should look at himself first before criticising others. Sir Alex is not pleased with the way Rooney has been playing. Relations between Rooney and Ferguson are so strained that it is affecting other players.”
In that there may well be some truth, although the jocular touchline banter during United’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal on Saturday hardly supports the assertion. Still, the Scot is unlikely to countenance any player – no matter how good – who threatens the harmony of the squad. Roy Keane, whose criticism of his team-mates in November 2005 occurred in an explosive MUTV interview, barely last a week before he was shown the Old Trafford door.
When it comes to the player’s form, however, Rooney can offer little support for the reported criticism of his own team-mates. After all, the player’s output in the past year is barely a fraction of that between November 2009 and March 2010, when the striker scored at around a goal-a-game. And despite six goals in the past eight games, the former Evertonian’s heavy touch belies a player whose confidence is not what it once was.
Indeed, while Rooney’s fall from grace is not yet terminal, it has been profound. Since suffering an ankle injury against Bayern Munich last March the striker ended the 2009/10 campaign without a goal, was a key ingredient in England’s tormented World Cup campaign, and has endured months of poor form this season. Add the hookers, strained marriage, public drinking and bitter contract negotiations to the story and it is far from a pretty picture.
None of that is new of course and supporters can point to the five-year contract signed by Rooney in October, raising the striker’s salary to more than £180,000 a week. In a financial and legal sense the contract ties player and club together, yet it does nothing to preclude a future transfer. After all, Cristiano Ronaldo signed a new contract with the club barely 12 months before an £80 million move to Real Madrid. On a smaller scale so did Phillip Neville.
There are other reasons to believe Rooney’s medium-term future lies outside the club. Not least that talk of major rebuilding work at Old Trafford this summer will come, inevitably, at a high price. In addition to a new goalkeeper, United’s shopping should include a top quality replacement for Owen Hargreaves, a creative midfielder and potentially a left-winger. Additionally, Michael Owen is out of contract and Federico Macheda’s situation remains unclear and talk of Wes Brown and Park Ji-Sung moving on has some merit.
Indeed, there is repeated paper talk of the club spending more than £100 million this summer. It seems off-the-mark – after all the Glazer family has shown no proclivity towards ignoring the apparent lack of value in the market over the past five years. Unless, of course, there is also a major sale to balance the books.
Quite how much United might get for the player, whose star is no longer in the ascendency, is another matter altogether. The mooted fee last autumn was more than £60 million. At that price there is only three clubs on the planet with the financial clout to buy Rooney – Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid. With Ferguson unlikely to countenance strengthening a domestic rival – and the player on a long-term contract – there could be a buying party of one. It’s not always conducive the securing the best fee.
The fee is a mere incidental of course in a longer path that seems, inevitably, to separate player from club. After the Rooney’s behaviour in recent times, once wonders how many tears would really be shed.