Wayne Rooney and Manchester United: The Split

COS contributor Max Glover wonders where it all went wrong between the Old Trafford club and their prized asset.

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Too big a topic not to write about.

I confess, I thought the breaking news yesterday was a bit of hysteria about very little. Surely Wayne Rooney couldn’t, wouldn’t leave Manchester United? And surely not in such a manner.

Turns out he is.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s engaging and revealing press conference this afternoon shows that Rooney’s possible departure is a relatively new experience for him. This is not an instance of Ferguson asserting his authority over a player who became too big headed, too powerful, or too media focused. The cases of Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, David Beckham, Dwight Yorke, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Carlos Tevez bear little or no relation to the current situation that Rooney finds himself in.

Instead, Ferguson looked tired, exasperated, and dare I say it, old. United players are rarely allowed to leave at their own behest, and not many want to. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid was amicable, almost acceptable, just as Cesc Fabregas’s transfer to Barcelona this summer will be. It is routinely understood that for young boys growing up on hot, dusty streets in Iberia, those two particular clubs represent the pinnacle of a footballer’s career. To move to either is the realisation of a dream.

Yet so it is with Manchester United in this country. Make no mistake, they are the biggest club in the land. Liverpool lack the recent trophy haul, Chelsea and Manchester City the pedigree, and Arsenal the glamour and European success. From County Durham down to Bristol, amateurs dream of pulling on the famous red shirt at Old Trafford. Of course, they do not hold that allure for everyone, Alan Shearer a case in point, but Manchester United are still Britain’s number one football club.

Both seemed a perfect match. Rooney was the country’s biggest talent, United its biggest club. The man himself is a throwback, a street footballer, a link to the fans on the terraces. The way Rooney seeks the ball, the depth of his longing for victory and his general demeanour, all bad taste tattoos and sunburn, makes him seem like the sort of person you’d normally see strolling around Ayia Napa in a tank top. He is a fan who has been blessed with superb, God-given, natural ability. And just as Old Trafford and Carrington seemed the perfect environs for Rooney’s talents, so Ferguson seemed the ideal protector: a tough, gritty winner, a man of similar background and origins. The personalities Ferguson had assembled in his squad were also ideal. Footballers are like anybody else. They like to work with friends, with people they know, trust and can relate to. Ashley Cole left Arsenal, in part, to be with his England buddies at Stamford Bridge, just as youngsters in Paris and Marseilles see Arsene Wenger’s club as a home for talented Franco-African players. Portuguese players flocked to Chelsea, Spaniards to Anfield. Footballers work in packs. For Rooney to train and play with men of similar age, nationality and personality was important.

This makes it all the more bemusing why Rooney would want to leave, and all the possible reasons for doing so reflect badly on both him and the club itself.

It seems incredibly unlikely that the man just desires a simple change of scenery. Such boredom can surely only come towards the end of one’s career, at thirty or thirty-one, not at twenty-four.

Is it because Rooney feels the supporting cast around him to be so inadequate?

I think not. Although United are not what they were, too many have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. In jostling to praise Rooney last season, the contributions of others were routinely overlooked: Vidic at the back, Evra rampaging down the left wing, Fletcher’s dominance in midfield and the excellent service provided for Rooney by both Nani and Valencia. It is a huge mistake to ignore the quality running through Ferguson’s squad. He is too good a manager, and United too big a club, to ever let the standards of the team drop below a certain level.

That leaves two possible options.

One. The player feels that he can earn more money elsewhere.

Two. Rooney is determined to escape the goldfish bowl of the British press and escape to a country where the media are not so intrusive.

As previously said, both options show both the player and the club in a negative light. Ferguson’s press conference was a masterpiece in political exhibition, revealing the help and support the club has given Rooney behind the scenes.

The first possibility, that of money, would cause more vitriol to be directed towards the Glazers. It would show that United lack the capital to back up their name in a new cut and thrust footballing world, and subsequently that the club is unable to bring in a significant replacement: a Luis Fabiano or a Fernando Torres. It also, to my mind, reveals Rooney in his true colours: a man more motivated by finance than football. Both parties, in a sense, lose out.

The second is the most likely reason, although it is impossible to say until we know in which direction Rooney is headed, be it Eastlands or the Bernabeau. The tabloid press in this country are, in my opinion, disreputable to an extreme, routinely ruining lives and professions to sell headlines. Publications that pay people for the sole intention of shoving a camera up Cheryl Cole’s dress as she hops out of a London cab are the shame of the nation. So in wishing to escape them, Rooney can be forgiven. However, it also shows an inability to mature and grow up, to change his behaviour. Let us not forget, the reason that Rooney left Everton whilst still a teenager was due in part to the breakdown in relations between his agent, Paul Stretford, and Everton manager David Moyes. Moyes felt Rooney’s lavish lifestyle to be getting in the way of his football. Stretford pointed out to Moyes the importance of Rooney to the club. Not long later, he was at United.

So when Rooney does depart, and depart he will, both he and the club will be losing out. The bearded ball of fury will be losing the best home and mentor he could ever have hoped for, along with credibility and adoration from English football fans.

However, the biggest loss will be Manchester United’s. The catchphrase ‘no-one is bigger than the club’ is clichéd, we hear it repeated so often it hurts. And although Wayne Rooney is not a bigger or more famed entity than Manchester United Football Club, they need him more than he needs them. Ronaldo and Tevez were allowed to go in the knowledge than a new generation would be groomed at Carrington with Rooney as the talisman, the standard-bearer, the Eric Cantona for a new United. But United without Rooney are an uninspiring outfit, and without him they may struggle to attract players of the top, top bracket. Ferguson’s face at two o’clock this afternoon showed that.

Wayne Rooney is to leave Manchester United.

All we need to know now is where he will end up.

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