Though Ronaldo’s departure didn’t exactly open the door for Wayne Rooney, considering he’d already netted 124 times for club and country, it certainly rolled out the red carpet and focused the spotlight on him.
And boy, did he revel in it. Scoring 40 goals and providing seven assists last season between England and United, there was rarely a time when you could open a newspaper or turn on the TV without hearing about his latest great performance.
Then, following a first leg game against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the 2009-10 Champions League, the headlines went from boasting about Rooney’s latest performance to, Rooney: Ankle Watch 2010.
Claiming he was fit and ready to guide England to World Cup victory, Rooney returned home from South Africa as quite possibly the biggest disappointment in the tournament.
Determined to prove he was still the threat he was at the end of the 2009-10 season, Rooney returned to Carrington ready to brush off the World Cup woes with a brilliant club season.
What followed was a dismal one goal, from a penalty kick, and three assists in six starts before an ankle injury looked to have him out of the action until around Christmas. Things were not looking good for the 24-year-old, who only had two years left on his contract.
Cue Rooney Saga 2010.
Rooney said he wanted to leave Manchester United, as the club's aspirations of winning were no longer in line with his own. When the curtains were drawn and the dust finally settled on the week-long media roller coaster ride, various rumors began to emerge on what caused the affluent striker's sudden change of heart.
Whether his intentions truly were to leave the club where he’s reveled in three Premiere League titles, three League Cup titles, three Community Shield victories, a Champions League victory and a FIFA Club World Cup victory, all since joining the club from Everton six years ago, is still up for debate.
The first theory to surface was that Sir Alex was given £100 million ($161.3 million) to spend this January to lure in the highest caliber players that Rooney supposedly said United were currently lacking. Rumors began to spread about Fergie going big in January and names like Sneijder, Schweinsteiger, and Huddlestone began siphoning through the rumor mill.
That is, up until Sneijder inked a new five-year deal with Inter and Sir Alex claimed he wasn't going to be doing any spending in January.
The Rooney saga was a first for Sir Alex, after taking the helm 24 years ago come this Saturday. He was faced with one of his highest profile players wanting to leave the club in the peak of his career, not his waning years. And for the first time in his tenure, two years shy from breaking Sir Matt Busby’s record of being the longest serving manager in the club’s history, his player had the power.
Rooney began to see the possibility that his most fruitful years could already be behind him and that an injury-filled season may lay ahead of him. This would see him coming off the worst season of his career as he entered in to the last year of his current contract.
One thing was certain: He needed a new, long-term, top-dollar contract. Realizing he was not only the face of Manchester United, but English football as well, he announced his desire to leave the club, resulting in all of the top clubs knocking on his door.
This began driving his value up and giving him leverage to negotiate. Never mind the fact no club in England expressed much interest in him and he’d stated last spring he’d never leave England.
Realizing the amount of revenue Rooney’s name and face alone bring to the club and that he was the one with less power in the situation, Ferguson did all he could, as quickly as he could, to retain his last true marquee player.
However, within a matter of days, Rooney had signed a new five-year deal worth a reported £180,000 ($293,000) a week. That comes out to be a little under half of the alleged funds Ferguson had available to him, though you must consider United were already paying Rooney around half of what his new deal is worth. Leaving the increase in wages to only be about £4.68 million ($7.62 million) a year, or £23.4 million ($38.1 million) over the next five years.
After Rooney put ink to paper on his new contract, rumors began to spread that Sir Alex had promised his poster boy that he would bring in top-class talent in January. But the 68-year-old boss squashed those rumors by claiming he wasn’t going to sign anyone in January.
By doing so, Ferguson regained his power, but added further questions to be asked about the club's financial state. Since the departure of Ronaldo in 2009, United have lacked a marquee midfielder. Despite the urging of the club's 333 million followers and 139 million core fans to sign another big name, Ferguson has repeatedly stated that he is content with the talent that he has.
In May of last year, Manchester United were listed as “The World’s Most Valuable Sports Team” by Forbes Magazine. With an estimated value of £1.14 billion ($1.83 billion) and £285 million ($459 million) of revenue, one might wonder how the club has a reported £699 million ($1.13 billion) worth of debt.
Shortly after his move to Santiago Bernabeu, to fulfill a childhood prophecy predicted by his father, Ronaldo announced he would consider a return to Old Trafford. One year later, after only retaining the Carling Cup and under pressure from fans to make a big signing in the summer transfer window, Sir Alex announced the only player worth the money available to him was none other than the one he let go, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Though the meager £80 million ($129 million) earned from the sale of Ronaldo last summer is not enough to cover the club's debt, it causes you to wonder if Ronaldo staying at United was even an option.
Amidst all of the names associated with entering or exiting the club in January over the past month, United have managed to win all five of their last five games, and have yet to lose a game this season. But when you’re one of the top clubs in the world, anything less than a win is considered a disappointment.
After failing to retain the Premiere League title for an unprecedented fourth-straight season last year and a rocky start to the 2010-11 campaign, carelessly dropping points to Everton and Fulham, the question remains, is the money actually there? Or will Sir Alex have the squad hitting their stride around Christmas, as he so often does, and backing his statement that they don’t need to make any big signings.
Whether the money is there to spend or not, one thing is for certain—being the man responsible for picking 18 players each week to produce entertaining football for 442 million fans worldwide, in order to keep the £285 million ($459 million) of revenue flowing and help you maintain the title as manager of the world’s most valuable sports team, is real power.