WAYNE Rooney’s future has been thrust into the spotlight again after he finally broke his silence on his summer of discontent.
Talking to the media while preparing for crucial World Cup qualifiers with England, the stand out sound bites from the Rooney interview included him blaming his disillusionment on Sir Alex Ferguson playing him out of position, in midfield, after the signing of Robin van Persie.
He said that after nearly a decade at the club, he felt he had done enough to warrant a place in ‘my position’, namely at centre forward.
Rooney also declared himself ‘happy’ and ‘settled’ at Old Trafford with David Moyes although he stopped short when asked if he wanted to stay in Manchester beyond next summer, or if he would renew his attempts to leave.
The Rooney debate was the biggest conundrum for the club to consider over the summer and the biggest issue for the fans to worry about. We dithered and ultimately failed in the transfer market but more is made of that than what I believe to have been the best bit of business we did achieve over the off-season – keeping hold of Rooney.
I wanted to keep him. Not because I idolise him and love him unconditionally. But because he’s a crucial player for Manchester United. Because he’s a world class player and can help us win trophies. Ultimately I fear that had we lost him, we would have undeniably become weaker, despite the cost and quality of any replacement, while at the same time we would have undoubtedly strengthened whoever we sold him to. I dread to think what could have happened had we sold him to a domestic rival such as Arsenal or Chelsea.
I don’t, however, possess the same depth of feeling about Rooney that I used to. I never will again. His behaviour over the last three years has tainted him.
I’m one of the fans that will never truly be able to forget the 2010 outburst when he pined to join Manchester City, let alone this summer when, while we all accept that he may not have directly asked for a transfer as Sir Alex Ferguson suggested, he expressed a desire to leave the club – again – and flirted with Jose Mourinho and Chelsea.
As long as he’s playing well for United, scoring goals and influencing games, I’ll support him, but at the moment if he were to surpass Sir Bobby Charlton’s club goalscoring record – he is 47 goals short of Charlton’s total of 249 for the Reds – it would be bittersweet.
The club definitely did the right thing by keeping hold of him this summer but if he leaves in the future I will not be surprised. I doubt I’d even be saddened by it. If the club is thinking about it though, they have to have contingency plans in place. If he’s sold, we have to be the winners in any deal.
The comments he’s made in the last few days are fair enough, and I’m glad he’s at least broken his silence, but he’s trying to play the victim when, as several United fan blogs I’ve read quite rightly point out, Rooney’s been treated pretty bloody well by United and Sir Alex over the years. He’s Been paid a bucketful of money, won numerous team and personal accolades, and the club stuck by him during his off-field misdemeanours, while the fans have also, largely, stuck by him too.
He’s played the victim on more than a few occasions in the last few years and the sense of entitlement he seems to have about what he thinks he deserves and where he feels he should play seems to me to be abysmal advice he’s receiving from his agent, Paul Stretford, who has come to represent a figure of hate and derision among United fans.
I read an article a few weeks ago by former Liverpool and England striker Stan Collymore, who was less than polite about Stretford.
Collymore remembers Stretford going from being ‘a thorough, professional, understated guy to this horrible parody of an agent’, wearing a long Gucci coat and sunglasses and who garnered the nickname ‘Toad’ from friends of the now popular talkSPORT radio presenter, because he reminded them of the character from The Wind in the Willows.
Collymore also came to think of himself as ‘a doormat’ for Stretford: “I allowed the line between him being my surrogate father and my agent to become blurred. And he played on that big time. He abused it. My relationship with him was unhealthily dependent and he milked it for all it was worth,” Collymore has been quoted as saying.
Shortly after Collymore moved from Liverpool to Aston Villa in 1997, he said he received a phonecall from Stretford begging for money: “His business was expanding and he had calculated I owed him £80,000,” Collymore said. He ran some checks and worked out he did not owe Stretford a penny. “A couple of days later Stretford rang again. This time he was near enough in tears. He said ‘You do love me, don’t you Stan?'”. Collymore wrote a cheque because ‘that was the kind of hold he had over me’.
Former United striker Andrew Cole has a similarly disparaging view of Stretford.
Cole was advised to employ Stretford as his agent shortly after moving to Newcastle United and he was behind his big money transfer to Old Trafford in 1995.
“I moved to Manchester and stayed at Stretford’s house, he made me part of the family. I thought it was a generous gesture – I later found out that he had been deducting rent from my earnings,” Cole said in a 2010 article in The National, published shortly after Rooney had shocked football by revealing he wanted to leave Old Trafford.
Cole continued: “He hated the idea of anyone getting close to me, just as he does with Wayne. He was very domineering, but I let him be like that because I thought he had my best interest at heart. He told journalists that they couldn’t ask certain things and gave me advice about everything I did. I made him so much money that he became a wealthy man, but I didn’t mind because I considered him to be a decent agent and a friend.
“But Stretford obviously considered me to be a client and nothing more, because as soon as I stopped making him money I didn’t hear from him. Stretford wasn’t motivated by friendships, but money. I wasn’t the only player who stopped hearing from him when I’d served my purpose. People don’t speak well of him.”
Ferguson was not a fan of Stretford and United fans should be weary. Rooney has said this week that he disliked being played out of position last season and feels his role has been diminished since the arrival of Robin van Persie.
Let’s address those two points:
Rooney claims he was asked to play out of position in midfield last season.
Actually, Rooney was used only sporadically in midfield last season. It was far from being a matter of routine as he appears to suggest.
In addition, Rooney’s versatility has always been seen as an important part of his game and he’s claimed numerous times before that he is capable and willing to play anywhere.
Following a Champions League win over Otelul Galati at Old Trafford in 2011, Rooney said: “I’ve said it before, I’m a good enough footballer to play anywhere on the pitch. That’s not being big headed. I feel I’m capable of doing that. If the manager wants me to play there, I’ve no problem doing that. I played there a lot [in midfield]when I was younger. If the manager asks me to do it, I’m happy to do it.”
Despite his complaints about last season, in the vast majority of games, Ferguson actually used Rooney alongside Van Persie.
Secondly, as for Rooney’s importance and role diminishing since Van Persie’s arrival, the one thing that winds me up most about his eminent decreasing relationship with the club over the last three years is that it’s all been his own doing.
He criticised the club in 2010 for not showing any ambition in the transfer market. That was a bold statement.
I adore Fergie as much as the next fan but we all know how ruthless and spiteful he can be, and he was never likely to forget one of his biggest stars criticising the club so harshly.
Since that outburst, Rooney’s signed a lucrative new contract and we’ve signed Van Persie, which was a clear statement of intent and a guaranteed source of goals, as last season’s easy title win reflects.
Instead of being happy that we fulfilled Rooney’s 2010 wishes and displayed our ambition, bringing in a player to win us silverware, Rooney’s now unhappy because the Dutchman’s arrival has overshadowed him.
Van Persie’s arrival also coincided with several niggling injuries picked up by Rooney at the beginning of last season. It was also a widely held view that he lacked sharpness and fitness when he did return to action and he’s even admitted himself to a drop in form last season.
“I know myself that last year wasn’t my best season,” he admitted in his latest interview.
Let’s not forget that the biggest shock to Rooney’s and the fans’ systems last season – his omission from the Real Madrid game – almost proved to be a stroke of genius by Ferguson. His replacement Danny Welbeck scored in the Santiago Bernabéu and but for the ludicrous sending off of Nani in the second leg, it might well have been United in the quarter finals of the Champions League.
Ideally, I’d love Wayne to have a great season for United and to be content, for us to bounce back from a difficult start and win some silverware, then him to really commit to the club in the summer.
Wouldn’t it be brilliant if, with Ferguson gone and with him being ‘content’ under Moyes, he came out and said he wanted to stay at United, that he was hungry to chase down Sir Bobby’s record, and wanted to become a United legend?
If not, and he says he wants to leave, the best case scenario for United and the fans is this: Rooney has a stellar season domestically, then shines for England at the World Cup in Brazil next summer. That will add value to his stock and, with him approaching his 29th birthday by the time the 2014/15 Premier League season kicks off next August, he would be at an age where he could command one final, bumper pay day from a potential suitor, while United would likewise have their last chance to cash in big time on a player who would rapidly decrease in value after any such transfer.
Losing Wayne Rooney is not ideal for United, but we’ve lost big stars before – Beckham, Stam, Van Nistelrooy and Keane have all been ruthlessly dispensed of after falling out with Ferguson, but not before they had served their purpose for the club.
The big test comes at the end of this campaign though, with Rooney having around two years remaining on his current deal.
I maintain that the best option is to keep Rooney but the player will be in a powerful position come next summer. While right now he definitely doesn’t deserve a bumper new deal, next summer if he feels his future lies away from Old Trafford, he’ll be in the last year of his current deal and will be able to hold talks with other clubs and he’d be able to leave United for free in the summer of 2015, albeit he’d be nearly 30 if that situation arose.
I just feel that, with Ferguson retiring and United going through the biggest change behind the scenes in nigh on three decades, losing Rooney would have been catastrophic this past summer.
We’ve all seen how much of a disaster Moyes and Ed Woodward’s first transfer window proved to be. If Moyes had sanctioned the Rooney sale and we would have endured the same embarrassment and strife we did while going after the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera in trying to find a new frontman, it might have proven to be inoperable surgery to fix us.
With a season in charge under his belt, having had time to feel his way into the role and having had a chance to make more of a mark on United come next summer, Moyes will be in a much better position to judge the Rooney situation.
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