Where now for Rooney?

When the teams were announced, shockwaves rippled through Twitter. Wayne Rooney, resident superstar with a wage to match and one of the biggest symbols of his club for almost a decade, snubbed in favour of a raw young striker, a flaky Portuguese winger and a 39-year-old legend.

The striker himself made no comment, but wife Coleen broke her silence to voice a reaction shared by many. “I can’t believe @WayneRooney isn’t starting tonight!!!,” she tweeted.

(Getty)

(Getty)

It is now at breaking point. Ferguson wants shot of Rooney, but the striker is in no hurry to go anywhere. That is where Rooney holds the advantage; his value will nosedive as soon as the summer transfer window closes. If he is still at Old Trafford on September 1, he will be into his penultimate season at the club. The two men are at loggerheads, with the backdrop of a Bosman transfer on the horizon.

Even at their closest, Rooney and Sir Alex always enjoyed a fiery bond. In his autobiography released last year, entitled My Decade, the former Everton star revealed he has often elected to “shout back” when subjected to the Scot’s infamous ‘hairdryer’ treatment. “I don’t like getting shouted at by anyone,” he admitted. “I tell him he’s wrong and I’m right.”

Rooney’s withering assessment of the ability of his own team-mates was viewed as a personal slight by his manager and, despite the saga unexpectedly ending in a bumper new contract with a basic wage of €287,000-a-week, the Scot has neither forgotten nor forgiven.

Ever since, Rooney has been the United player most regularly singled out for criticism, whether because of his weight, his lifestyle or his level of performance.

He has also become more acquainted with being dropped – on New Year’s Day last year he was omitted from the United squad to take on Blackburn at Old Trafford, fined a week’s wages and forced to train on his day off following a poor showing at Carrington the morning after a Boxing Day night out with Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson.

Rooney’s lucrative current contract runs until the summer of 2015, but Sir Alex has no desire to renew it and commit another huge pot of money to a player he no longer believes merits such investment. The Scot is also loathe to deal again with Rooney’s controversial agent Paul Stretford. He has turned his attentions to other options, most notably Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski.

The only other solution for United is to sell, and doing so at the end of this season would guarantee the greatest possible financial return – leave it another season and Rooney will be heading into the final year of his contract, with a Bosman on the horizon.

But getting rid of Rooney will not be easy – most notably because the player himself has no desire to leave, regardless of the tensions with his manager.

The ‘noisy neighbours’ were Rooney’s most interested suitors when he submitted his transfer request three years ago. But it is highly unlikely Sir Alex would sell a talented asset to his bitterest rivals, and City for their part now consider Napoli’s Edinson Cavani and Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao higher priority targets.

Beyond City, Rooney’s potential destinations are limited. Barcelona would be unlikely to make a move due to financial constraints, and the major Italian clubs are already in the grip of austerity measures. Bayern Munich, though capable of spending big money where necessary, would be unwilling to match his mammoth wages. And although the upcoming presidential elections at Real Madrid will not be as fiercely disputed as usual, the unopposed Florentino Perez is focused firmly on Falcao, though his top priority is keeping Cristiano Ronaldo happy.

Only Paris Saint-Germain look to have the resources and inclination to countenance signing a player of Rooney’s stature.

But in this particular game of poker, it is Rooney who has the upper hand. He may harbour no hopes of outlasting his indefatigable manager, but he can still happily play the waiting game, allow his contract to run down and see what comes. Emotions aside, Sir Alex knows it would be madness to allow a player who remains an incredibly valuable asset to leave for nothing.

At 27, Rooney knows his next contract may be his last. He is prepared to wait for it, but his manager has made up his mind too. The scene is set for another titanic battle of wills.

Read Rooney & Fergie on explosive collision course over Manchester United future

Coming to terms with Wayne Rooney

Getty

Getty

Be careful what you wish for. In 2010, Wayne Rooney handed in a transfer request after David Gill failed to convince him that the Manchester United squad would be strengthened to his specifications. Now that squad is much stronger. So strong, in fact, that it apparently no longer requires Rooney. Karma can bite you like that, but you have to admire her sense of irony.

Quite where Rooney will go, should this speculation prove correct, is anyone’s guess. With weekly wages that go up to 250,000 pounds with bonuses, there aren’t many clubs that can afford him. Manchester City were sniffing around in 2010, but they are a very different club now. Title holders and close to securing a third successive season in the Champions League, they don’t need to pay absurd salaries to attract players, especially not with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play on the horizon. PSG is an option, and so too is Chelsea…

No one would seriously argue that he belongs in their company, but then again, the same could be said of all but a handful of players to have ever played the game. Messi and Ronaldo are extraordinary footballers, the kind of talents that you will use to belittle your grandchildren’s heroes in generations to come. And yet …

Perhaps it is Rooney’s Englishness that has held him back. As a player, he is admired even by supporters of rival clubs for the way he surges around the park, but tactically that can make him a complete liability. When United are struggling to keep possession, you’ll often see Rooney clattering back to help his full backs. It’s all very noble, but when the ball comes back, where is United’s striker? Ah, there he is, huffing and puffing his way back into position.

Perhaps it’s time to accept that Rooney is simply a very good footballer, maybe even an excellent one. He’s just not a great one.

 Questions remain over Rooney commitment

Getty

Getty

…Rumours that United have been contemplating the sale of Rooney, and that his relationship with the manager is more strained than ever, have been doing the rounds for weeks. After Tuesday night, though, many more people around Old Trafford and Carrington were willing to speak more freely about the persistent talk at the club.

The root of the problem goes back to the start of the season and, typically, Rooney’s power play way back in October 2010. More than anything, the forward’s public doubts about “the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world” in that hectic week have really stuck with Ferguson. It has always lingered and has never gone away.

Instead, Rooney responded by coming back from the summer above his expected weight. In Van Persie’s first game, a 1-0 defeat away to Everton, Rooney produced a conspicuously laboured and lethargic performance at his old club that reportedly had Ferguson fuming. As one source said, “he did the opposite” to what the manager was expecting.

Worse followed after the player’s injury in the subsequent win over Fulham. During his time out, Rooney apparently didn’t fully adhere to his gym plan and his optimum weight remained an issue. At one point, Ferguson reportedly told the forward that he “has come back from every tournament with England out of shape”.

Of course, all of this only fits the wider pattern of their relationship since the 2010 World Cup. Essentially, every season has panned out in a broadly similar way: Rooney starts slowly, develops an issue with Ferguson – in 2011-12, it was surrounding his omission from the Blackburn Rovers defeat at Christmas,…

Only adding another level to all of this, there is the debate about whether the truly top player that Rooney could have been has now gone away forever. Undoubtedly, he will go down as one of United’s greatest ever players: he has one of its finest ever medal collections; has played an influential role in securing all of those medals; and has probably been among the top 10 in the world throughout all his time at Old Trafford. In fact, during 2009-10, in the season before his notorious attempt to force a move, he was probably only behind Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

But the wonder is what he might have been had he applied the Portuguese’s attitude to his fitness.

When Rooney first came through it was his sheer physical power that made him most stand out. Most impressively, he literally had the French defence running scared in his global break-out appearance at Euro 2004. That aspect of his game, though, has gradually faded. One of the reasons his blockbuster strike against Norwich City was so notable, in fact, was that they have become so rare.

In certain ways, in fact, his eventual appearance against Real Madrid reflects where he is now as a player. His displays generally fall between two main types: either all vigour and no precision, or effortless precision without the same vigour. Many expected that, by the time of his peak, he would persistently combine the two, but the performance on Tuesday definitely fell into the former category.
After the match, as United’s post-mortem eventually went beyond the unfair red card to Nani, one member of the coaching staff turned to Rooney.

“Wayne, you gave away the ball four f**king times in 10 minutes.”

It was met with silence.

It was a rare moment in this saga and, outside it, the Rooney story has generated anything but silence.

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