Being a Manchester United fan has obvious benefits. There’s the trophies, the youth system, the stadium, the nice kit, the fact that you’ll never struggle to see a game on television, and the lack of managerial turmoil. And the more of this you have, the easier it gets to take it all for granted – even those who lived through the barren years will say silly things after a defeat at Anfield or a home draw against relegation fodder. However, it’s the last on that list – our managerial stability – that’s important, and the one we most often fail to acknowledge. While every single one of us may indeed love Alex Ferguson, it’s bizarre watching a team for your entire life and basically not once having seriously questioned the manager. It’s not normal, and it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that we might never have the same faith in one individual ever again
And with managerial stability comes a continuity in other areas, too. Ferguson doesn’t take any shit, so we could relax in the knowledge that we’d never be pushed around by arrogant players like in the Chelsea dressing room, or continually shown disloyalty like certain Arsenal players. Anything that happened was all part of the master plan – nobody pushed Ferguson around, and nobody pushed Manchester United around.
And then Wayne Rooney came along.
When Rooney entered his ludicrous run of goalscoring form that ended in disappointment with his injury against Bayern Munich, it seemed to be an absolute certainty that he would go on to break records at United and become a true legend. And after the transfer request, and insulting the club, it seemed that even if he stayed, he could never again be truly loved. Now, however, the former is looking more the case than the latter – seemingly, we’re prepared to forgive and forget all after less than a year.
A couple of games of booing. A near-embarrassing indulgence for a player in appalling form from both the crowd and manager, which it’s hard to imagine any other player enjoying – certainly not one Dimitar Berbatov, who despite playing out of his skin could still somehow not attract the adulation or support posessed by a man in shocking form who’d threatened to join our closest rivals. And then after a bit of good form, it was all over. “Remember the Wayne Rooney transfer request? Yeah, I never had any doubt either.”
In fact, the repercussions could go on for a long time – it could be the start of players beginning to have their say. Ronaldo wasn’t the same – he wasn’t doing it for higher wages at the club, wasn’t trying to engineer a move to our closest rivals, and wasn’t using contract expiry to force the issue. In contrast, when we climbed down to appease Rooney, we smashed our highest wage, shelling out £180,000 a week for his sake – now, any player who reaches such a high level will be able to reasonably demand the same, and wages will be forced up across the whole club as a result.
But more than that, it’s hard to escape the sense that in keeping Rooney we lost something more valuable than a top-quality player. It looks unlikely we’ll see it this summer, but we’ve arrived, fashionably late, into the era of player power. It;s not hard to imagine that if Nani, say, had shone towards the end of the season he might’ve deployed similar tactics to secure a lucrative move away or new contract. His poor form and the purchase of Ashley Young has weakened his position, so we won’t find out this year at least. It’s speculative, but already it’s hard to remember that none of this would’ve been imaginable in the past. It doesn’t matter if Rooney is a ‘special case’, he sets a dangerous precedent for years to come.
When the transfer request came in, my own personal opinion was that he should be immediately sold to the highest bidder. I still think that would’ve been right – there’s no point in getting rid of him now, but the worst effects of the whole affair may not be apparent for another year or two. Glad to have you on board, Wayne, but after that, United feels a little less like United and a little more like any other club. The next time a key player hands in a transfer request or tries some more flamboyant contract negotiation shenanigans, you’ll all remember who to blame, right?