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Will Fergie Sacrifice Wayne Rooney Again?

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Will Fergie Sacrifice Wayne Rooney Again?
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In the fierce public relations war now raging in Red Manchester, the United board must feel that for the first time this season, it is gaining the upper hand.

United may be crippled by a near £720 million debt but the impact of the financial tsunami that threatens the club is still to be felt by the first team.

Daringly, David Gill described the Gold and Green protest movement as “ridiculous” as he moved to capitalise on United’s burst of good form with the announcement that Sir Alex would have a summer transfer kitty worth  £100 million.  

The newspapers are already spending the cash on the manager’s behalf. The Mail , flying the highest of kites, claimed that United will pursue the talented but inconsistent City midfielder Stephen Ireland.  

There is even talk that United are discussing Franck Ribbery’s future employment with his agent, even though the Bayern Munich forward is probably beyond the club’s means.

Whilst it is hoped that Sir Alex will seek more invention and goal power from midfield in time for next season, it is the manner in which he deals with Wayne Rooney that could prove to be his most decisive act of the close season.  

Rooney, 21 league goals to the good in early February, is playing the best football of his career. He has vindicated the manager’s decision to make him the pivot of United’s attack.

Rooney has also demonstrated beyond any question that he has the dynamism and the presence to lift United in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era.

"I am scoring more goals because I have changed my position," Rooney explained. "I'm playing further forward and in the middle of the penalty area. It was [Fabio] Capello who suggested this to me. He said I needed to be in the danger areas and I think he's right."  

As a shoe-in to be named Players' Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Player Of The Year, it is easy to imagine that the manager would do nothing to alter the central position his star striker occupies in the team.  

Moreover, United are poised to enter a crucial 12 month negotiating period with Rooney’s agent. It will end with the player either signing a new club contract worth an estimated £9 million a year or announcing his departure.  

Nevertheless, if the newspapers are to be believed, tampering with Rooney’s position may indeed be what Sir Alex has in mind.  

Rumours persist that the manager could spring a surprise in the close season by moving on Dimitar Berbatov. The gossip has been encouraged by the Bulgarian’s repeated failure to start in the matches that count and by the fact that he remains a saleable asset.  

The Senegalese newcomer Diouf is promising but unproven. The Italian Macheda has had a season to forget and may not be quite ready for the first team next term.  

Despite scoring the winner against City and a good hat-trick against Wolfsburg in the Champions League, Michael Owen has been an underwhelming presence in United’s attack since his move to Old Trafford.  

Fans, like the pundits, connect the dots and see only positives in the arrival of new striking blood.

A new frontman would sell season tickets and encourage the sponsors whilst being a dramatic two-fingered salute from the board to the anti-Glazer refuseniks who protest that United are paupers.  

The pressure on the Glazer family to deliver a marquee signing is enormous, especially given the stinging criticism that it used the £80 million proceeds of Ronaldo's transfer to Madrid to pay off its creditors.

Chief Executive David Gill added coal to the fire when offering a hostage to fortune on BBC national radio earlier this month.

"I do not have a clue about how many players we would buy in the summer,” he told BBC Radio Five Live listeners. “We have well over £100million in the bank, so we will assess the squad over the next few months and go into the market as appropriate."

So far, the names mentioned as possible United targets—Wolfsburg’s Edin Dzeko, Madrid’s Benzema or Milan’s Huntelaar—are lead strikers, unlikely to adapt easily to playing the "Beardsley" role to Rooney’s "Lineker." 

The logic of a new striker is rooted in the persuasive idea that Rooney would offer even more to United if allowed to play with the goal in front of him rather than with his back to the opposition’s goalkeeper.  

It is a point of view that the manager has resisted this season simply because he had no other choice.  

However, if Sir Alex does see the merit of  improving his striking options, will he revert to type and sacrifice Rooney in the name of strengthened team cohesion, just as he did so often in the past when shaping the team around Ronaldo?

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