The news that Wayne Rooney has told Manchester United that he wants to leave seems to have hit the club like a bolt out of the blue.
However, this has been coming for a long time, as his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson has somewhat soured over the last seven months or so.
Amidst growing rumours over the weekend, United Chief Executive David Gill spoke tersely to the press stating that the very idea of Rooney leaving the club was nothing short of "nonsense."
But just 24 hours later, it would appear that the striker’s advisors have firstly halted contract talks and followed that up by saying Rooney also wants to leave the club.
The news that the club's best player, by a million miles, wants to leave will be a bitter blow for Alex Ferguson to take.
Having brought Rooney to the club as a prodigious 18-year-old from Everton in 2004, many felt that the wily Scot was putting the pieces together for his last great side before retirement.
Rooney's Commitment: Then and Now
Over the last seven years, it is no exaggeration to say that Wayne Rooney has been Manchester United's best player. He has shown a remarkable ability for putting the team first in every performance and has dug his compatriots out of tough situations on more than one occasion.
It is this phenomenal work-rate in his previous nine years as a professional that marks this current dip of form out as nothing short of spectacular.
The first thing that any manager, or fan, looks for in a player is their ability to work hard for the team. This is the first rule of football: work hard and win your battles before imposing your skill on the game.
In this first commandment, Wayne Rooney has been a revelation.
He has many critics, but not one could ever question his commitment. That much was there for all to see.
His commitment during this early part of the season though can be questioned. It is clear to everyone that Wayne Rooney is not on his game.
Most pundits pointed to the lurid stories in his personal life; saying that they were a heavy burden on his young shoulders.
The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back
As in many situations where stress plays its part it would appear to be a case of "the straw that broke the camel's back.”
There are a multitude of reasons as to why Wayne Rooney's form has sunk so low, and why he may or may not leave the club.
Last year was Wayne Rooney's most productive season ever. He contributed 43 goals for club and country and was being mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi when people started talking about who was the best current player on the planet.
That phenomenal season disintegrated in Manchester United's surprise away defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League Quarter Final on March 30.
Firstly he deflected Franck Ribery's free kick past Edwin van der Sar for Bayern's equalizer and then in injury time he went over on his ankle as Mario Gomez powered past him into the box as he set up Ivica Olic for Munich's 93rd-minute winner.
From there, Manchester United's 2009/10 season was effectively over.
Sir Alex Ferguson had put all of his eggs in one basket and now Rooney was injured. He had foolishly allowed Carlos Tevez to leave the club and had, even more foolishly, put his faith in the misfiring Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov.
By the time the return leg came around the following week, Ferguson gambled United's entire season on an obviously crocked Wayne Rooney and left Berbatov on the bench.
Even when the England striker hobbled off the pitch in the 56th minute, as United faced an onslaught at 3-1 up with just ten men, it was for John O'Shea. Such was Ferguson's distrust of his £30 million signing from Spurs.
Rooney only managed to pull on the Red shirt of United three more times that season after the Bayern match. His season was in tatters.
There was no way he was going to win the Ballon D'Or, no way could he win the Golden Boot, and more importantly, his World Cup preparations were in shards.
Hindsight is 20/20 but it is fair to say Wayne Rooney's '09/10 season may have ended better if his manager had more faith in his other players and had decided not to risk his one and only world-class talent in the return leg against Bayern Munich.
The World Cup is old news now and everyone knows how England and especially Rooney massively under-performed.
Nobody expected them to win the tournament but they were expected to give a good account of themselves and South Africa 2010 was supposed to be the defining moment of Wayne Rooney's young career.
It did provide a defining moment, but it was not the one most fans were hoping for or expecting. Following a dismal performance against Algeria, an obviously unhappy Rooney blasted back at the English fans as they voiced their displeasure by booing their own team off the pitch.
Phone calls from Alex Ferguson followed but they were to no avail. Rooney was unfit, England was deplorable, and he was growing more frustrated at his own and his team’s impotency in the greatest tournament in football.
He returned home beaten and bowed and Ferguson immediately gave him a holiday.
When the Community Shield came around the Manchester United manager informed Rooney that the game was meaningless and that he was not needed, to take the extra time off and rest his ankle.
But Rooney was adamant that he would play. He set up United's opening goal in their 3-1 win over Chelsea. His ankle, however, was still not 100 percent and his advisors had just entered into talks over a new and improved contract with the club.
The summer had seen Manchester City embark upon a spending spree that was felt all around Europe where even clubs like Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid could not compete with Roberto Mancini's finances.
Average players like Yaya Toure was able to command wage-checks of around £250k per week while teenage wingers like Adam Johnson were elevated onto the £100k per week bracket.
It meant that there were many envious eyes in the Premiership glancing towards the Eastlands. Only the summer before, Chelsea's captain John Terry had informed his club that unless he was awarded a new and improved contract that he would move to City.
Nemanja Vidic embarked upon a similar tactic with Alex Ferguson and United and stated through numerous channels that he was looking at moving to Spain.
In the end, the Red Devils relented making the Serbian centre back one of their highest paid players and giving him the captain’s arm-band into the bargain.
During the four months that all of this was going on. Rooney had a "super-injunction" against all media outlets forbidding them from publicising the latest scandal in his life.
When the news eventually broke, many felt that this was the unknown factor behind his rapid loss of form.
Soon afterwards his manager informed the media that Rooney was suffering with ankle problems and would not be played for a couple of weeks while he rested.
Rooney's answer was to show up at United's Carrington training ground the following day and run around like nothing had ever happened to his ankle in the first place.
Then the international break came around. Where, in the mix zone, Wayne Rooney chose to speak out and say he didn't know what his manager was talking about; that there was nothing wrong with his ankle and that he was 100 percent fit.
Ferguson's answer to this infringement by Rooney was to drop his star for Saturday's game with West Brom.
However, if you look back at United's games this season and the Rangers game in particular, you will see that Rooney's ankle is not 100 percent, that there is still something obviously wrong with it and that his manager has a point.
Being dropped for the home game against West Brom appears to have been "the straw." The next day, every media outlet in the known stratosphere ran with stories saying the player would move on.
Texas Hold'em Part Deux
Make no mistake about it; Wayne Rooney knows that he is the only marketable name on Manchester United's books at the moment.
He is also the only world-class talent that United possess and given the club's current financial unease it is also highly unlikely that he could be replaced by a player of the same calibre.
The fact that these talks "broke down" 14 months before Rooney is allowed to negotiate with other clubs should not be lost on anyone.
It means that United are now in the position of having two months to make their minds up on the striker.
They either a) give him what he wants or b) sell him in January for the maximum fee or c) sell him in the summer for a dramatically reduced fee.
If Rooney is really unhappy at the club where he has spent the last six years, then he will force the move sooner or later. It makes no difference really because he will be the one who dictates where he will end up.
If the move is a contract tactic, then we're down to the second biggest game of Texas Hold'em since Tom Hicks and George Gillett placed a Temporary Restraining Order on Liverpool FC.
United either blink first and award Rooney the £150k per week he is rumoured to be demanding or face losing him.
Who, What, Where, When, Why? Which Teams Are Rooney's Suitors?
Such is Rooney's standing in the game that there are really only four clubs who can afford to buy him, or should he leave on a free transfer afford his wage demands.
They are Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Chelsea.
Rooney would have no problems in joining any of those four teams. At 24, he has won everything he is going to win at United. There may be more trophies if he wants to stay, but there will be trophies wherever he goes.
Sir Alex Ferguson has gone head-to-head with plenty of other players before, namely Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Jaap Stam, Mark Hughes, Gordon Strachan, Lee Sharpe, and many more.
In short, the Scot is the undisputed champion at Old Trafford, although it does look like his points victory over Carlos Tevez was subject to a home-crowd decision.
City would obviously want him. A two-pronged attack with Rooney and Tevez would be highly intoxicating for Mancini to consider and he has the checkbook to see the deal through.
Barcelona have the money but seem more interested in prising Fernando Torres away from Liverpool, but if Rooney leaves they would definitely face competition from Ferguson for the Spaniard's signature.
Whether Torres would jump from one financial fire at Liverpool to the ticking time bomb at United is another thing entirely.
Jose Mourinho is chasing another striker. He does not rate Gonzalo Higuain or Karim Benzema, and Rooney is easily better than either.
However, Mourinho's machine-like tactics almost dictate that he employ a powerful striker in the Drogba, Milito, Llorente mould up front, not someone like Rooney.
Although if you can't find a place in your team for a player like Rooney, then you might as well give up.
The sweetener if Rooney ended up at Madrid would be that United could take the likes of Benzema and Lassana Diarra and still hope to trouser around £10 million. It would be the ideal opportunity for Ferguson to rejuvenate his squad.
The fly in the ointment with that particular deal is that it is almost in Mourinho's best future interests to leave Rooney at United as the Portuguese is heavily expected to take over the management of the club after Sir Alex Ferguson retires.
Leaving Chelsea. Didier Drogba is 32, and is out of contract in two years' time. Carlo Ancellotti has twice tried to sign Fernando Torres but would undoubtedly be interested in Rooney is he became available.
Sport is Selfish and Insecure by Its Nature
This is all about what's best for Wayne Rooney.
He is the top player at Manchester United and wants to be treated as such. His career is so short that he wants to be recognised for his worth amongst his peers. "What fans think" rarely comes into the thought processes of professional athletes.
The way Manchester City is awarding their players will annoy and undermine many players at different levels of the game.
When you have a player like Wayne Bridge, a good honest pro who is earning £100k per week, on a par with some of the highest paid stars in the world, it is only human nature that some of them question their standing in the game.
They ask themselves questions like; if my club really values me, then why don't they pay me what players of my standing command?
Rooney, at 24, is England's best player in decades. He knows this and is playing off the fact that Alex Ferguson knows this, too.
Given the contact situations of all the world's great stars; this latest move by Rooney makes him the cheapest available world-class talent on the planet, and virtually irreplaceable for United.
Let the betting begin...
This article was previously featured on Tiger Beer Football, where Willie Gannon is the featured Blogger. Over 18s only.
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