You have to hand it to Wayne Rooney: he has been phenomenally successful at squeezing money out of Manchester United since joining the club in 2004. Or perhaps more accurately, it is his management team of Paul Stretford and company at Triple S Sports, which has manipulated the club in negotiations twice over the past four seasons. Each time, it seems, Stretford and his client have walked away with millions.
In October 2010 Rooney announced that he was unwilling to sign a new contract, citing United’s lack of “ambition,” while attempting to force through a transfer to Manchester City. More than three years hence, following another summer of discontent where Chelsea waited with arms gratefully open, the striker is primed for another bumper pay rise at Old Trafford. And United will most certainly capitulate to his demands once again with a £15 million-a-season five-year contract.
In this it is not just Rooney’s disloyalty that grates. After all, it has long become clear that football is just a business to the street player who used to love the game above all. That is long gone to a man who has amassed a £45 million fortune during his time in Manchester.
Nor even that Rooney has attempted to engineer moves to two of United’s direct rivals, although it simply beggars belief that City was his destination of choice during that October revolution.
No, the real anger among so many United supporters is that Rooney has cynically manipulated the club to his own ends; raising his stock far above performances on the pitch have often merited, while dividing supporters’ loyalty. The essential cognitive dissonance of supporting United’s players on the pitch, contrasted against that feeling of antipathy for what the star striker now stands for.
Back in October 2010 the club caved, offering Rooney a massive new contract amid protest on the terraces and Sir Alex Ferguson’s tubthumping about cows in far off fields. With the Scot into the winter of his managerial career there was seemingly little stomach to call Rooney’s bluff. The player lost a public relations war, but won the contract game.
It was almost six months before the Scouser attempted to correct the fallout from blackmailing United, although in truth Rooney’s team erred only in misjudging supporters’ reaction. They played the club to a tee.
“I understand I made a mistake. When I look at it now how wrong was I?” said Rooney the following April in a classic non-apology apology.
“I admitted that and I apologised for that and I have wanted to try and prove myself again to the Manchester United fans. I feel I am doing that now. I am 100 per cent committed to this club. It was a long time ago now and hopefully now I am helping this team be successful.”
Except, of course, Rooney was never truly committed to the club. At least not in the manner of his peers: Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Nor, it is fair to muse, did United supporters ever really expect him to be. He was once a blue, but so willingly became a Red back in 2004. Nor, it must also be said, did this observation stop Rooney’s team from attempting to pull the wool over fans’ eyes.
“I want to still be playing here in the next 10 years,” Rooney told Sky Sports on a book tour the following year.
“You look at Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, how successful they have been. They are an example to us all. That is the idea, that is the plan, and hopefully that will be the case. I love playing for Manchester United and as long as I am wanted to play for this football club I will be here for a long time.”
So much to shill, so little time in which to do it.
But Stretford’s game of misinformation has been frequently played. The player’s desperate back-channel negotiation last summer brought two bids from Chelsea, with the west Londoners convinced – much as City had been three years previously – that Rooney could force through a transfer. Ed Woodward’s intransigence was the executive’s only achievement last summer.
Yet, Rooney’s team is up to the old tricks once again, engineering not only a route south should contract negotiations prove unfruitful this winter, but the appearance of an auction for the player’s services.
Indeed, recent stories of Real Madrid’s renewed interest in the 28-year-old forward can be traced back to Stretford’s team. After all, the Spanish giants have long since given up on a player who has failed to live with the world’s elite. How shortsighted the once-held belief that Rooney belonged in a triumvirate along with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Certainly performances on the pitch have not always justified Rooney’s untouchable status at Old Trafford, leaving Ferguson to omit the Scouser from his side altogether at times last season.
True, in a campaign of alarming mediocrity from David Moyes’ side this year Rooney has worked harder than almost any. It is, though, a comparison from a very low base and one that Moyes has stoked to his own ends. Repairing Rooney’s relationship with the club in the short-term was seen as essential when the Scot took on the job last June.
But gone is the burst of speed that once marked the teenager out as a talent of rare breed; long forgotten the ability to take on an opponent at will. Rooney still puts up decent numbers, but he will never again excite in the manner that brought fans to their feet a decade ago, and journalists predicting future greatness. He may well become United’s highest ever goalscorer, but something has still been left of the table.
Physical decline is evident, while Rooney’s 589 games for clubs and country since bursting onto the scene as a 16-year-old, together with a less-than-professional lifestyle, may take their toll on the player. That bombastic style has already led to multiple impact injuries over the seasons and burnout is surely inevitable.
For the moment there is a symbiotic need though. United for class in an otherwise threadbare squad; Rooney for money and status. Three years hence, with Rooney barreling into his 30s, the five-year deal on offer may well seem excessive.
Yet, Moyes’ strategy of massaging Rooney’s ego has backed the club into a corner from where there is little escape. Nor has it, according to some reports, been endearing to other senior members of United’s squad.
It is now inevitable that Rooney will sign on for another massive pay rise, or finally be sold in the summer. There are more than a few fans, perhaps even the odd team-mate, who tend towards the latter.