So, the enigmatic, talismanic figurehead is no more. The faithful have lost their guiding light, their man of the people. What will the future hold now? If, indeed, there is a future…
So voluminous and earnest have been this week’s obituaries for Wayne Rooney’s Manchester United career, one could be forgiven for drawing parallels with a South American country that’s lost the most charismatic and beloved President in their history. But unlike former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez’ heartbeat, the Rooney Saga goes on and on…
When tasked with producing Rooney-related tattle, the media rarely feels overly taxed, such is the bounty of scurrilous rumours and hearsay upon which they can draw to post copy every week.
Whether the gossip is football themed or of the more personal nature, (Rooney and his fashion designer wife Coleen seem to enjoy permanent residence inside the pages of the glossy mags), Brand Rooney never appear far from the public’s minds eye.
Where this week’s rumours differ, however, is that for once it appears they could contain that rarest of tabloid components – the truth.
When Rooney was omitted from United’s starting line-up for their most important game in recent memory against Real Madrid on Tuesday night, it was hard not to interpret it as anything other than a terminal, landmark moment in the relationship between Rooney and his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Scot may have insisted on Friday that Rooney’s future lies with United but only a fool would take a Ferguson assurance at face value.
With no discernible decline in United’s performance levels against Madrid sans Rooney, many have argued the decision to drop the former Golden Boy of English football was justified. It’s not an argument without merit but the suspicion remains that there is a lot more to the decision than pure tactics.
Some theorists point to Rooney’s fitness levels and extra-curricular activities which involve – among other things – a smoking habit. Others believe Tuesday’s omission was Ferguson’s pay back for the 2010 transfer saga when the Scot was forced to publicly grovel to keep his then star striker at the club.
So, can Rooney redeem himself at United? The simple answer is yes. Above all else, Ferguson is a pragmatist so if Rooney returns to his 2011 form when he scored a goal every 1.25 games then Ferguson will retain the strikers services. But the question isn’t really can Rooney redeem himself but will he get the chance.
It appears to many that Ferguson has lost patience with Rooney’s perceived lack of professionalism, viz a viz his fitness levels and lifestyle choices. And as others have pointed out, the Scot is notorious for avenging those he believes to have wronged him and there is no question he believes Rooney caused him to lose considerable face over the 2010 contract impasse.
Perhaps Rooney’s best chance of remaining at Old Trafford would have come with Ferguson’s retirement but with the Scot seemingly nailed on to remain at United beyond the summer now that his dream of winning a third European Cup has eluded him again this season, it seems unlikely Rooney’s United career will extend beyond his bosses.
So, with Ferguson remaining at the helm and the relationship between the two mirroring that of the manager’s relationship with David Beckham immediately prior to the former England captain’s departure from the club in 2003, it seems eminently reasonable to suggest that Rooney could well be plying his trade elsewhere come the start of next season.
But where? Entire forests have been sacrificed this week to enable an army of scribes to speculate on Rooney’s next move. All seem united in their belief that the future of the striker lies away from Old Trafford, but considerably less homogeneous of thought when it comes to identifying where Brand Rooney will pitch up next season.
Many argue Rooney’s wages will prove to be prohibitive but this doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Whilst true that Rooney’s current – reputed – £250,000-a-week wages would put off most suitors, these wages need to be put into the context of their overall cost.
With two years to run on Rooney’s current contract any club wanting to sign Rooney this summer would need to stump up £26 million in wages alone over the next two years to entice the striker away from United. However, were a club to offer Rooney a longer term contract (as they invariably would), then the weekly cost of those wages could come down considerably.
Rooney will be 28 this year and it wont go unnoticed that Ferguson rarely sells players he believes to still be at their peak. If Rooney were to receive an offer of, say, £150,000-a-week over the next five years this would represent guaranteed earnings of £39 million, in other words a further £13 million for the extra three years service – not bad for a player who will be in his thirties for those three years.
This level of offer could well prove tempting for a player who has endured two (relatively) mediocre seasons and who has clearly been having fitness issues, which are unlikely to subside with age.
Should Rooney be open to offers of £150,000-a-week it widens the field of suitors considerably. For example, if Manchester City offload Eden Džeko in the summer (as widely expected), this could free up the requisite money to secure Rooney without falling foul of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations.
In truth Rooney’s salary is unlikely to be the stumbling block many would have us believe. A more pertinent factor in the forward’s future is likely to be his home bird tendency. Having lived his entire life in the North West, Rooney and his large extended family firmly see Lancashire as their home.
It was interesting during the 2010 negotiations that the only move that seemed to be countenanced by the Rooney camp was to Manchester City, despite rumoured interest from the likes of Real Madrid.
Should Rooney be less than enamoured with the prospect of pitching up in Paris, Madrid or even London, then the list of viable clubs could be whittled down to two.
Despite appearing to pour cold water on the prospect of a summer move for Rooney this week, City manager Roberto Mancini is a big fan of the 27 year old and, as previously stated, City could quite conceivably be able to sign Rooney should they offload Džeko to Borussia Dortmund.
In order for the City move to happen Ferguson would need to relax his normal stance on selling players to rival teams, something that’s far from a certainty. Which leaves us with the other option: Everton!
On the face of it the idea of one of the world’s most famous and – on his day – gifted players signing for the Toffees appears laughable but there are several reasons why it shouldn’t be discounted.
Firstly, Rooney is a still a diehard fan of the Goodison club and would no doubt relish the prospect of playing for his boyhood heroes once again before he retires. This emotional attachment could considerably reduce the cost in wages (with a rumoured net worth of over £50 million, Rooney is far past the point of worrying where his kids next meal will come from).
With the aforementioned North West consideration also taken care of and the Toffees having a very real chance of being able to offer Champions League football next season, the idea of seeing Rooney once again wearing the badge with which he burst onto the scene all those years ago is not as absurd as it might seem.
Whatever unfolds next in the Rooney story, it would seem we are getting ever closer to the conclusion of the chapter marked ‘The Manchester United Years’.
Where he will pitch up next is, of course, a guessing game but to suggest the most talented English player of his generation won’t have plenty of offers is fanciful. If anything, Rooney might well receive offers from even the unlikeliest of places.
The author of this article is Paul Cantwell; you can follow him on Twitter @Pauliec77.