Manchester United are Humiliated by This Wayne Rooney Farce

nigel smithCorrespondent IOctober 23, 2010

MUNICH, GERMANY - JULY 28:  (L-R) Wayne Rooney of Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson look on during a training session on July 28, 2009 in Munich, Germany.  (Photo by Miguel Villagran/Getty Images )
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images

Three days is an eternity in the football life of Manchester United's Wayne Rooney.

The Red Kingdom was aghast to hear that its favourite son wanted out earlier this week.

Rooney, or more probably his advisers, let it be known that he thought the club could no longer "match his ambition."

United had allowed world-class giants like Ronaldo, Piqué and Tevez to leave and replaced them with comparatively modest talents.

"I asked for assurances about the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world," he declared on 20 October. United's failure to respond adequately prompted his urge to quit.

Rooney, it was clear, no longer wished to carry the team as he had done only last term, when in the form of his life, Rooney plundered 34 goals before injury cut short his season in April.

His words were as breathtaking as they were a withering indictment of the larceny of the Glazers, the club's owners. Despite his homily to Sir Alex's genius, Rooney seemed contemptuous too of a manager who had guided him to world elite status and made him a champion of Europe only two years previously.

The United manager appeared bewildered by the timing and the audacity of his star striker's dagger thrust to the United chest. In a sometimes tender press conference to present United's rebuttal of Rooney's charges, the wounds inflicted by the player on his manager were barely concealed.

For all the bluster and indignation that attended the Rooney notice to quit however, the trouble for the United manager and for the Glazers was that there was little in Rooney's slaying of United that was untrue.

The club shows all the signs of stalling under the crippling weight of an outrageous debt. The club is hemorrhaging to the point of anaemia its best and most expensive talent and has shown itself only too ready to recruit cut-price has beens and promising innocents in their place.

Sir Alex, the custodian of an empire built brick by brick with his own hands, is all that stands between United and meltdown. No one could accuse he manager of lacking ambition, only the means by which this can be accomplished.

Ferguson, ever the club man, feels compelled to repeat the hierarchical diktat that he has money to spend but no-one to buy, when all but the most blinkered understand that his pockets are empty at a time when his need has rarely been greater.

United's first choice goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar, is seeing out the extra time of his marvellous career and will need replacing next summer, if not sooner.

The defence creaks. Rio Ferdinand may never be fit enough again to contest a full season. Patrice Evra, fresh from self-inflicted World Cup embarrassment may need more time to recover from his summer missteps. O'Shea is oh so shaky at right fullback whilst Rafael is promising if a little reckless.

The experienced but injury-prone Brown, banished to oblivion for daring to defy Ferguson, cools his heels week after week as the defence ships goals.

United's midfield is close to its 2005 nadir. Gibson does not appear to be progressing and seems not to enjoy the manager's trust. Anderson is recovering from injury and is fighting for form. The Brazilian has done little in two years to confirm early impressions that he had the makings of a world class central midfielder.

Carrick has lost his mojo and cannot find it at a time when he should be in his prime. Hargreaves' career is probably finished and the clock is ticking down remorselessly on the aged Scholes and Giggs.

The attack looks better now whilst Berbatov appears to be more in the mood and Nani demonstrates a yen for self-improvement that many thought beyond him. But with Valencia convalescing and Owen in semi-retirement, the attention focused on the wonder kind Macheda currently results in unflattering reviews. The Italian may eventually become a superstar, but for now he is a raw work in progress.

Rooney's comments were all the more devastating because as a man with impeccable credentials he had repeated in public what sections of the press and the United fan base have been saying for months. United need reinforcements that can only come with a hefty price tag, no matter what praise might shower down from on high on those in reserve.

As an exit strategy, Rooney's public misgivings were designed to exploit the Green and Gold disdain for the Glazers. No matter that his head had been turned by a rumoured 260,000 pounds a week salary offer from blue neighbours City. By crafting his resignation letter in the language of a thousand pub arguments, Rooney must have thought he would be able to sneak out with some reproach but with a muted understanding too.

He knows better now.

After three days of tumult and high emotion, Rooney signed a new contract, ostensibly to stay with United for another five years, pocketing a hefty 180,000 pounds a week in the process.

As volte-faces go, this was stupefying.

"I'm delighted to sign another deal at United," he said. "In the last couple of days, I've talked to the manager and the owners and they've convinced me this is where I belong. I said on Wednesday the manager's a genius and it's his belief and support that have convinced me to stay

"The fans have been upset. My message to them is that I care for the club. I just want it to continue to be successful. My position [not signing a new contract] was always from concern over the future.

"Some fans may not take to me again very quickly. It may take time. But I will give everything. I will give 100 percent and try to build that relationship back. The fans have been brilliant with me since I arrived and it's up to me through my performances to win them over again.

"I'm signing a new deal in the absolute belief that the management, coaching staff, board and owners are totally committed to making sure United maintains its proud winning history—which is the reason I joined the club in the first place."

Sir Alex's account of events reduced Rooney's emphatic declaration of United's inferiority to the level of misunderstanding.

"I said to the boy that the door is always open and I'm delighted Wayne has agreed to stay," the manager confessed. "Sometimes, when you're in a club, it can be hard to realise just how big it is and it takes something like the events of the last few days to make you understand. I think Wayne now understands what a great club Manchester United is.

"I'm pleased he has accepted the challenge to guide the younger players and establish himself as one of United's great players. It shows character and belief in what we stand for.

"I'm sure everyone involved with the club will now get behind Wayne and show him the support he needs to produce the performances we know he is capable of."

Rightly, Rooney's flip flop has left fans gasping for air and rubbing their eyes with disbelief. There remain several unanswered questions:

Why did Rooney demand to leave with two months to go before the opening of the transfer market?

Have United given a commitment to back up his salary bump with significant investment in the team?

Can Rooney repair relationships with team mates he branded as not good enough only days ago?

If Rooney returns from injury with something approaching his old fire and venom and United put together a sequence of victories, these and other questions will remain whispers.

But should United suffer traumatic defeat against a domestic rival or a European competitor, these misgivings will spring into life with a vengeance. Rooney will be pressed for his reviews of United's transfer policy and on-field abilities, with the Fourth Estate eager to pounce on any sign of his discontent.

Rooney will face the choice of being either a truthful critic or a tame apologist for mediocrity, chastened into obedience by a 100 percent salary hike and an evening visit from some United ultras who let him know in no uncertain terms what would be the price of his treachery.

Should Rooney even hint at disapproval, he risks igniting the very same 'will he go' firestorm that has raged for much of this extraordinary week.

This is the nightmare situation forced by a shotgun marriage between club and player.It is a farce in which United should have refused a role.

Rooney is talismanic. His absence would have crippled the team in the short-term but by conceding his demands and making him the highest paid player in the United's history, the club has admitted that it can be held to ransom successfully.

Effectively, United have caved in to player power and admitted publicly that one man is bigger than the club.

Rooney's desire to leave should have been met with a curt farewell and an opening of the Old Trafford exit.

This would have survived the high fives of title contenders ecstatic at the weakening of a feared adversary and come to be seen not as a fit of pique or an act of childish defiance but as a mature understanding of the consequences of such action for the club and its manager.

Instead, United are humiliated despite Rooney's apology. The manager and his staff must now work with the club's most important playing asset whom they have every reason to distrust. Rooney, for all his new found wealth, has lost his iconic status at United, something altogether more precious.

He may seek to make amends with a suspicious public by blaming his disloyalty on an avaricious agent. Paul Stretford, who stood to make a killing if his star client left United for a mega-deal elsewhere, may now find himself the sacrifice offered by Rooney in his charming of the United fan base.

It should not matter. United, having tied Rooney to the club for five years, are no longer exposed to losing him for a fraction of his market value. They should now prepare to sell their best player next summer to whichever club will pay the highest fee, with the same cold-eyed calculation that Rooney demonstrated so clearly in an astonishing three days this week.


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