Contrary to popular opinion, Sir Alex Ferguson is not eternal. One day the aging custodian of this burgeoning Manchester United side will call time on the most decorated stewardship in the history of English football.
When the time comes, he will want to leave a legacy; to facilitate a smooth transition that will maintain United’s success after the gaffer has hung up his suit.
Selling Wayne Rooney - a rumor of questionable validity, but incredible persistence - would compromise all that Ferguson has worked so hard to build.
The forward roster at Manchester United is delectable, the firepower tantalizing. With a quartet of Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and this seasons acquisition Robin van Persie to choose from, the riches are bountiful.
My opinion on the van Persie transfer has swung from skepticism to joy to confusion. The Dutchman’s talent is irrefutable, his impact unquestionable, however, I was worried about the impact his signing would have on the rest of the forward line; namely Rooney.
This has not been Rooney’s finest season in a United shirt. Indeed it has been one of his worst as his performances lurch between the sublime and the ridiculous. Yet on his day Wayne Rooney is still the most naturally talented player Manchester United possess.
Since the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, Rooney has been the fulcrum of United. The catalyst for much of the attacking spark, the England international reveled in the freedom to which he was afforded.
While he has struggled recently, (before notching in successive games this week) Robin van Persie has had a stellar first season for United.
The ramifications of this however, have been to the detriment of Rooney. While Van Persie is deployed in an identical capacity in which he so excelled while at Arsenal, Rooney, who previously held the advanced role, has been deployed elsewhere.
The move makes sense, with his natural predilection to drift into holes all over the pitch, Wayne Rooney is not a natural target man. Robin van Persie, on the other hand, is the quintessential striker with supreme finishing, movement and positioning.
Adept at playing anywhere in the attacking half of the pitch, Rooney has been deployed everywhere from left wing to centre-midfield this season. While this is a luxury for Ferguson to call upon, it leaves Rooney with a conundrum he is yet to face during his United career: without a definite role in the side.
With such outstanding attacking pedigree, coupled with his tenacity and willingness to defend, Rooney would make an exceptional centre-midfielder. With United still maintaining the deficiency they have held in that position since the retirement of Roy Keane, it seems the natural answer.
Yet the rumors abound.
It all started following the decision to leave Rooney on the bench for United’s critical Champions League tie against Real Madrid back in March.
Previously the first name on the team sheet, his exclusion was a misnomer that has been analyzed ever since.
Two angles can be taken. Firstly, the inconceivable eventuality that Ferguson now sees Rooney as expendable to his side. Then there is the far more likely reality that it was merely a tactical decision.
Either way it is obvious that Rooney is no longer completely indispensable in the way he once was.
Hyperbole has inevitably been created as a plethora of foreign clubs supposedly amass to covet the 27-year-old's signature.
Wayne Rooney’s role at Manchester United may have changed, but he remains one of the world’s truly top-class players. The world’s best are not sold by strong clubs with a firm bargaining position.
A succession of top-class players leaving Arsenal—in consecutive seasons—gained the Gunners the unsavory tag of being a ‘selling club’. Manchester United, currently heading to a seemingly inevitable twentieth Premier League title, will never be a selling club under Ferguson’s reign.
Therefore the only eventuality in which Rooney’s departure would be permissible would be if he were replaced by a better player. There is only one upgrade that is even slightly feasible and even that is a long-shot.
Enter Cristiano Ronaldo.
Throughout his time in Madrid, Ronaldo has consistently spoken of his respect and admiration for Ferguson and his love for Old Trafford. Most assumed this was merely a platonic affection that would simply be contemplated from afar. Yet Ronaldo has a wandering eye.
At United his gaze was turned by the greener grass of the other side, and now it seems to have happened again.
The Portuguese’s superstar’s pre-eminent position, as the pinnacle of an Adidas-sponsored team, is a source of concern for the players own sponsors, Nike.
With their highly publicized debt castrating extravagant spending, and with financial regulations coming in from next season, a unique plan is supposedly afoot.
The ploy, constructed between United and Nike is a joint venture to return Ronaldo to United, giving the brand exclusivity of the player, and returning the prodigal son to Old Trafford.
The plan seems unlikely, unfeasible and incredibly bold, but not impossible. It would almost certainly signal Rooney’s departure, or at the very least his permanent redeployment in a withdrawn role, but most teams would do most things for Ronaldo.
If it is simply benign gossip, however, to sell Rooney and pin the clubs hopes for the future on a soon 30-year-old Robin van Persie would be stupid.
If Sir Alex’s 26-year tenure at the Theater of Dreams has taught us one thing, it is that he is most certainly not stupid.