Ah, the irony. In 2010, Wayne Rooney threatened to leave Manchester United if they did not match his ambition and sign some top players. In 2013, the club having won a second league title in three years, he demands to leave once more because those top players are keeping him out of the team.
It seems only yesterday that Rooney was well on course to becoming a United legend. It was April 2010, and the teams had just walked out onto the Old Trafford pitch for the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich.
The story of the week had been that of an ankle ligament injury to the portly scouser, and whether or not Sir Alex Ferguson would deem including Rooney against Bayern as a risk worth taking, particularly with Chelsea having taken the initiative in the race for the league title. His chances of playing did not look good.
Red hearts were in mouths, the Old Trafford faithful dreading the prospect of going into the biggest game of the season minus their star player and talisman. Very understandable—Rooney was enjoying the season of his career, playing at the top of his considerable ability, and showing the world why he was rightfully ranked as one of the best.
Naturally, Ferguson, as is usually the case, pulled out a trump card. United fans were ecstatic to see their boy back in the lineup, seemingly healed up and ready to resume his season, which was by that point 34 goals to the good. All was well, United were back on track.
During the game, which ended in defeat for United on the away goals rule, he aggravated his ankle and was substituted, bringing an end to his run of goals that season. It also appears that it brought an end to the Wayne Rooney of old.
He hasn’t been the same since. That signature burst of pace that enabled him to break free of the last defender is gone, while he has become more prone to having bad games rather than off days. He is still, without a doubt, a fantastic footballer—66 club goals over the past three seasons—but he has lost a certain je ne sais quoi.
But let’s put all of that to one side for now; his playing ability is not in question. If that were the case, why—assuming it’s not just a ruse to unsettle his main title rivals—would one of the best managers in the world, Jose Mourinho, be making bids for Rooney, according to The Guardian, while telling anyone who’ll listen how highly he regards him? Granted, he can no longer carry the team as he once did, but he’s still one of the top players in the world.
It’s more to do with disenchantment, from both Rooney and the United supporters, and also the penchant that Rooney has developed for handing in transfer requests.
On Rooney’s side, it goes back to the infamous 2010 contract saga, when he publicly questioned the club’s ambitions and it was widely thought that his time in Manchester was coming to an end, at least in the red half anyway. But Ferguson was still in charge, and being a man who is known for not letting anything get the better of him, much less a disgruntled player, the situation was resolved within a week. For his trouble, Rooney came out of it with a much improved salary and a five-year commitment to the club that apparently “lacked ambition.”
Debate still goes on over if it was actually Rooney wanting to leave or just his representatives pushing for more money, and on the surface it seems irrelevant. But the way that things have turned out, knowing whether Rooney or his agents were the catalyst for October 2010 would shed rays of light on the current mess.
It seems odd that a player of Rooney’s quality, whose main aim is to win trophy after trophy, would seriously doubt the potential of his club to be successful, only to have his faith restored by a pay rise. Some might say that Ferguson persuaded him with promises of new signings or whatever, but come on, this is Manchester United we’re talking about—they will not fade away for a very long time, if ever. That, and the manager himself implied that Rooney’s agent was to blame for unsettling the player.
Concerning this year’s saga, there are conflicting statements. Ferguson claimed that Rooney asked to leave, while Rooney flatly denies any such thing. The school of thought that this article is coming from, keeping Rooney’s previous firmly in mind, is that Ferguson’s is the more plausible version.
It feels more likely that Rooney’s agents tried to instigate new contract talks by throwing their weight about, while Rooney got cold feet about what might happen if he ended up staying and tried to pacify the fans by denying the whole thing. For it if wasn’t true, and Rooney is indeed committed to his club, why has it dragged on for so long?
Regardless, if it is Rooney’s team of representatives that are causing the trouble, why sell the player if he is apparently innocent and still very capable of delivering on the pitch?
Agents are generally seen to blight football in the same way that ambulance-chasers hover around accident black spots—they are usually invisible until there are people to exploit and money is to be made.
But you can’t just ban all agents. The most common argument against that course of action is that some players—Rooney included—would struggle to live their life in the spotlight without professional guidance. They would fall victim to scam artists and leeches at every turn. However, the term “professional guidance” is used increasingly loosely nowadays.
The problem is that Rooney is quite heavily reliant on his agent to conduct business with Manchester United, sponsors, and other related matters. It’s a greedy and insatiable monster that needs ever-increasing amounts of financial chow to stay alive—the more money that they make for Rooney, the more that they are entitled to as part of their percentage.
Rooney isn’t the baggage as such, his agents are. But the difference between Rooney and other players seems to be that—with or without his willing consent—his team of representatives are more predisposed than others to bite the hand that feeds them. Inconsequential if other clubs will happily pay him as much, which they will, but not too clever seeing as United can easily just run down his contract, as executive vice-charman Ed Woodward has suggested that they might.
Running down his contract wouldn’t be ideal for either party, but, no matter what garbage agent Paul Stretford fills his head with, Rooney has to remember who is in control. His manager is free to hold onto him until a suitable replacement is found, which is a very different position to the corner that the club found themselves backed into in 2010.
Three years ago, United obviously thought that Rooney was important enough to try and deal with this kind of situation head-on. Now that they have seen off Manchester City for the time being and also have the free-scoring Robin van Persie, it appears that the idea of losing Rooney is no longer as abhorrent as it once was. And, if United did bow and offer him a new contract, they will be well aware that the same thing will probably happen again a few years down the line.
And then there are the fans. Once bitten, twice shy, as they say.
It must be hard to have your best—and in many cases, favourite—player betray your loyalty with a request to leave, only to find yourself having to forgive him a few days later. Then, just as you’ve readapted to the idea of Rooney being one of your own again, he does an about-turn. The fans are the club; if they are unhappy, they will not hesitate to show it.
In the unlikely event that he does stay, Rooney can score as many goals and win as many games as he wants. But if the fans are booing him every game, which a good number of the Stretford Enders may very well do, it will affect the dressing room in a negative way. David Moyes certainly does not want that during his first season as United manager. Then again, he probably didn’t want a Rooney saga in the preceding summer.
So what do we have here? A player whose head is easily turned by his agents, a large portion of fans who want him out, and the fact that Rooney is no longer the force he was the last time he made demands of this nature. This is just speculation, but him missing the preseason tour due to an apparent injury in the midst of all this uncertainty rings as slightly more than just coincidence.
Don’t be fooled by Moyes’ and the club’s claims that Rooney will be a United player next season. Clubs will say whatever they want to keep the masses at bay, and while the statements are not necessarily true or untrue, they should be taken very lightly. Moyes will know that as good as Rooney is, managing a football team is a careful balancing act that a wayward individual can easily upset, and will not risk having his first season in charge marred by his one of his own players.
Common sense should prevail, and even though potentially gifting their title rivals a highly valuable asset is not exactly ideal, United should let Rooney go. He and his agents are too much trouble, he is past his best, and, being that he is no longer central to the club’s plans, he is no longer worth it.
That fabulous season he had in 2009-10 is no longer a defining memory, but a distant one.
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