It has become strongly apparent that Manchester United's fall from the Premier League summit is becoming a serious concern, but Wayne Rooney's potential departure from Old Trafford would turn their current crisis into a catastrophe.
The Daily Mail's Bob Cass recently reported that the striker's uneasy stance in contract negotiations has led Chelsea to believe they can poach his services in 2014, with a £30 million bid in the offing.
Radio 4's Nick Sutton provided the Mail On Sunday's back page spread via Twitter:
Manager Jose Mourinho made Rooney his No.1 priority to the extent that other Chelsea targets, such as Edinson Cavani, Radamel Falcao, Mario Gotze and Neymar, were allowed to slip through their net.
United executive chairman Ed Woodward is in contact with Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford to set up talks, with the pair expected to meet this month to talk about extending a deal which runs out in June 2015.
The main concern for Rooney is supposed to be a doubt over whether his side will qualify for the Champions League this season.
With United currently seventh in the table, five points outside the top four, the feat will be difficult enough to achieve with Rooney among David Moyes' ranks.
Without him, a finish outside the top four would surely become a near certainty.
It's ironic that Rooney should inspire what has arguably been his best Manchester United form to date under the former Everton manager with whom he so infamously fell out in 2007.
This was in relation to claims made in Rooney's autobiography, per The Telegraph, which led Moyes to suing his former Goodison Park charge.
However, overcoming all personal obstacles, Rooney has excelled this term, scoring 11 goals and making 19 assists in 24 appearances for the Red Devils.
The forward's remarkable influence can be seen in the fact that, without those statistics, United would be 14 points worse off in the Premier League race this season, akin to the critical impact that Gareth Bale had on Tottenham's fortunes last term.
While one could argue that the likes of Robin van Persie, Shinji Kagawa, Nani or Danny Welbeck have the potential to keep their side afloat, that potential is worth nought unless it's consistently being produced, and none has shone as spectacularly as Rooney.
The England star is streaks ahead of those around him right now, in fact.
Jose Mourinho's Blues can offer more stability as things stand. Granted, a huge gap lies in between the pedigree of the two clubs historically, but Chelsea are enjoying some good form under the second coming of "The Special One," and continue to boast as much pulling power as any other side in the European transfer market.
The Daily Mail's Ian Ladyman says that a Rooney switch won't come to pass, however:
United need to offer their in-form attacker some assurances over what's to come under Moyes at Old Trafford, but it seems as though any promises made now would be fairly hollow.
After all, the club have just been handed only their second FA Cup third-round exit of the last 30 years, losing 2-1 to Swansea City over the weekend. Combined with their league form, it has been a dire campaign to date.
Moyes faces a difficult task in convincing Rooney to persevere at Old Trafford, and juggling Champions League and Capital One Cup campaigns is only likely to damage hopes of qualifying for Europe's elite tournament next term.
It's a task that, were Rooney to leave, would surely become beyond United as they bid to retain their place at Europe's top table, something they grew so accustomed to under Sir Alex Ferguson.
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