Nine years ago, when United unveiled Wayne Rooney at Old Trafford, it appeared nothing could stop the 18-year-old from becoming one of the game’s brightest stars as Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United were deemed the perfect environment to nurture and develop the teenager into something special.
Almost a decade on, the teenager is no longer a teenager (although the petulance and self-pity characterising Rooney’s behaviour over the last 18 months do not do his 27 years any justice), and the relationship between player and club has deteriorated to such extent that parting ways is as inevitable as it could be beneficial for both parties involved.
The shiny armour that once cladded the love affair between Rooney and the club first began to show its cracks two years ago when the striker was ready to relinquish his talismanic status and move across town as he felt United’s ambitions no longer matched his own. He quickly backpedalled after United tabled an improved financial deal.
Those cracks re-emerged last February as Rooney found himself benched for the return leg of United’s Champions League last 16 clash against Real Madrid – the club ‘s biggest game of the season at that stage – and have gone on to resemble volcano sized craters, with the 27-year-old clearly willing to explore each and every avenue that could take him away from Old Trafford.
Talking to the media after his final match at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson claimed that Rooney had lost his starting spot due to a combination of poor fitness, inconsistent performances for a player of his calibre and, last but not least, to the fact that the player had expressed his desire to leave the club.
Fergie’s assessment of the situation split fans’ opinions, with some considering it a final, rather gratuitous, V sign to the striker who had held him and the club to ransom two years earlier, while others were fed up by the latest tantrum coming from a player who, despite pocketing in the excess of £250,000-a-week, could not force himself to reach the required levels of professionalism expected of him.
Frustration and a sense of deja vu brought many fans to wish the club would dispose of Rooney as swiftly possible, his £250,000-a-week sure to be better invested on one of the top signings Ed Woodward had boasted about earlier this summer. However, as the feud between Rooney and United intensifies and the number of clubs ready to invest on him grow thinner, logic replaces fury in the minds of many fans who are now afraid that selling Rooney to a direct rival could backfire spectacularly.
Despite David Moyes’ stance that Rooney is not for sale, the Scouser appears destined not to add to his 197 goals for the club. Over the last couple of days the papers have hinted Rooney could take his future into his own hands and submit a formal transfer request and force United’s hand, while rumours some of the older players are frustrated and disappointed at the striker’s behaviour, have grown increasingly louder over the last 24 hours. That, United can’t afford.
As cliched as it might sound, a stable, focused, dressing room is a pivotal to a club’s success as performances on the pitch and while the story was leaked to the newspapers with impeccable timing, it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that Rooney’s recent behaviour hasn’t gone down well with his team-mates.
After all, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra – three of the players believed to have had enough of this saga, according to today’s back pages – were all at the club when Rooney accused United of lacking ambitions and, two league titles after, they could be excused for wanting to see the back of the club’s highest paid player whose behaviour has come to mirror that of a spoilt brat.
The Rooney camp’s decision to portray the striker as a marginalised figure within the dressing room would have been an extremely smart one had it not been for the fact that, despite the 27-year-olds claims regarding his fitness, only one club has submitted an offer for the England international who clearly has an opinion of himself far higher than the one shared by owners and managers of top European clubs.
The saga has gone too far for either party to step back and compromise, especially now Rooney has told Moyes he’s desperate to leave the club.
David Moyes, however, has the opportunity to lay down an important, arguably pivotal, marker with his own fledgling United career still in its infancy for, considering how desperate Rooney is to leave the club, the 27-year-old can’t afford to be to pick and choose his destination – nor the terms on which he’ll depart – meaning the United manager could – and should – take control of this saga.
A strong message to the player, dressing room and title rivals is required. Whether it’ll be delivered in the form of demanding £50m for Rooney or whether it’ll be delivered by turning the striker’s head around and get him to buckle down and behave professionally, it doesn’t really matter.
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