Last season, Wayne Rooney’s form became so poor, by his own high standards, that Sir Alex Ferguson dropped him. He was left out of the starting line-up for our biggest game of the season at home to Real Madrid, a decision that was working well for us until the referee’s scandalous decision to send Nani off, and it wasn’t that surprising to see Fergie do it. Obviously it meant the press and fans were talking about his future but based on the way he was playing, particularly in the first leg at the Bernabeu, it seemed a fairly obvious move.
Rooney came in for his fair share of criticism from United fans for his form but by the end of the season, only Van Persie, Suarez, Bale and Walcott had more goals and assists than him. According to the fans, it was one of his worst seasons in a United shirt, completely outshone by Van Persie, but he was still one of the most effective players in the league.
It is because of what Rooney is capable of even during a bad season that United couldn’t afford to let him leave the club, not for a rival at least. Maybe it’s silly to regard Chelsea as rivals right now, given they are 15 points clear of us, but they certainly felt like rivals at the end of last season when Ferguson confirmed that Rooney wanted off.
Chelsea were the only club to put a bid in and thankfully only offering £25m meant United weren’t put in a position where they had a tough decision to make. Had a £40m offer come in, maybe it would have been more difficult for United to stick to their guns. As it was, their resolve wasn’t tested and it was easy to bat the West London club away.
The next battle was convincing Rooney to stay though, which was probably an easier task once Ferguson retired. Ferguson outed Rooney, revealing that the striker wanted to leave, in a way that has been described as a bitter parting shot. Maybe that is an accurate description. Or maybe Ferguson wanted to take some of the heat off David Moyes before his appointment was announced, so that the new manager couldn’t be blamed for the revelations that were set to come in the summer, with Paul Stretford trying to prise Rooney away. Or maybe it was a bit of both. Maybe Ferguson couldn’t resist the opportunity of sticking the knife in Rooney, knowing that the situation would then become win-win for Moyes, either losing Rooney because the player had been intent on leaving before he was even appointed, or getting the credit for managing to convince the striker to stay.
Just like in 2010, Rooney was talked in to shunning the cow in the other field, and has now put pen to paper on a new ridiculous deal. When you consider Chelsea pay Eden Hazard £185k-a-week, it’s hard to imagine Rooney would be getting anything like the £300k-a-week we’re paying him if he left. Some fans are fuming that his lack of loyalty has been rewarded with a huge contract and the press claim we have been made mugs out of. Maybe we have, just as we were in 2010, but just like in 2010, offering him a massive pay rise is better than the alternative.
I was flying home to Manchester when Rooney last changed his mind and upon landing my phone erupted with text messages and missed calls. I had spent the last couple of days of my holiday e-mailing and texting journalists, learning just how close Rooney was to moving to City. Losing Carlos Tevez to them had been pretty awful. The Stretford End had chanted for him, drowning out Ferguson’s end of season speech on the day we were crowed champions for a record-equalling 18 times, making the whole affair fairly embarrassing. “Fergie, Fergie, sign him up!” was the echo of City fans whenever he scored for them. But Tevez had only spent a couple of seasons with us and his form of the second season was distinctly average. He hadn’t run around kissing the badge, repeatedly claiming United were his forever club, that he wanted to be a red legend like Ryan Giggs, amongst other lies, though. Rooney had us. Hook, line and sinker. We knew he was an Evertonian but he managed to convince us that he loved United.
Daniel Harris had given me a copy of his book about the 2009-2010 season and when trying to distract myself from the talk of Rooney, I decided to depress myself with memories of the season before, having lost out on the title to Chelsea by a point. But I couldn’t escape Rooney, with Harris asserting: “he appears to get United more than most of his teammates”. We were all conned.
Seeing Tevez running around in a City shirt was rubbish, but the thought of Rooney doing it was pretty unbearable. Thinking of how he would make our lives hell by scoring goals against us for them and kissing the badge, tormenting us, the same way he did Everton fans. City had gone bonkers enough with Tevez, paying for that daft ‘Welcome to Manchester’ poster. Can you imagine what they would have done if Rooney joined them? We were desperate. Ferguson was desperate. He gave the performance of his life at that press conference and the press followed suit, mocking Stretford’s exit plan of suggesting Manchester United, fucking Manchester United, didn’t match his ambition. The true insanity of that claim was seen in all its glory a few months later, with United winning a record breaking 19th title and Rooney scoring a goal in the European Cup final at Wembley.
United are beyond desperate now though. Our only hope of playing Champions League football next season is if we manage to make up eleven points on Liverpool in the remaining eleven games, or if we win the European Cup this season. Both scenarios are fantasy, if we’re honest.
So what was the alternative to offering Rooney a ridiculous contract? Selling him to Chelsea for £15m with one remaining on his contract this summer, or letting him go there for free next summer. Imagine this Chelsea side with a striker who could actually score goals. Imagine Rooney playing as a number 9, as he did in 2009-2010 when he scored 34 goals in 44 games, with the likes of Hazard and Oscar feeding him the ball.
But it’s about much more than that. Chelsea may very well win the title this season even without Rooney, and that isn’t really our problem right now. The issue is, as it would have been in 2010, it would signal the beginning of the end. Losing one of our best players to a rival would have been crippling to our status, as if we’re not crippled enough already. United have never lost one of their best players to another English side and if that were to happen, particularly now we’re without the faith that Ferguson could make amends, it would spell disaster for the club. The signing of Juan Mata and retaining the services of Rooney suggests that we might be around next season, once we’ve managed to wipe this one from our memory. To be reminded of our inadequacies every time Rooney put one in for Chelsea, every time he lifted a trophy for them, would have been a bitter pill to swallow.
So, what now?
Worst case scenario is that Rooney stays at the club, earning a massive wage, until he is 33-years-old and way past his best. He breaks Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record, after hinting again, third time lucky, that he wants to leave the club.
But if that were to happen, it wouldn’t necessarily be groundbreaking. When John Terry was Rooney’s age, he revealed he had “sleepless nights” over an offer from Mark Hughes at 10th placed Manchester City and he was rewarded with an £150k-a-week contract by Chelsea. This deal made him the 2nd best paid player in the league (behind City’s Robinho!). Now aged 33, with that contract set to expire this summer, that deal makes him not much better paid than dross like Ashley Young and earning considerably less than the likes of Fernando Torres. That £300k will probably be fuck all by the time Rooney is 33, although I’m not sure that’s much of a consolation right now.
Best case scenario is that Rooney stays at the club for a couple of seasons, wins us plenty of games and some trophies, and then when United have the option to sign a better, younger player, they ship him off. The likes of PSG might still be keen, particularly because of his ability to sell shirts, or maybe David Beckham might be interested in luring the Rooneys to Miami.
But what this contract ensures is that any future sale is on our terms. If we want to get rid, we can, and if we don’t, we won’t. That’s not to say Rooney hasn’t got a fantastic deal out of this, because he has, but it puts United in a position where they hold all the cards. Stretford will have earned himself a fair bit of dosh, but not as much as he would have done at Chelsea who spend freely where agents are concerned, so not all is lost! One day Rooney will look at this parasite in the same way that Andy Cole does, and maybe that can be some consolation too.
For now though, we can just hope he does all he can to do something to justify the money he’s being paid. This season he has scored and assisted 19 goals in 22 appearances (20 starts), meaning only Suarez (31), Sturridge and Aguero (20) have contributed more to their teams than him. Players who have received rave reviews this season, like Hazard and Toure (17), Gerrard (16), Ramsey (14), Negredo (12), Silva (11) and Oscar (8), all lag behind Rooney.
He’s not the best player in England, he doesn’t deserve to have the best salary, but this situation is the lesser of two evils. For now, the cow is in our field, and that’s better than it being in Chelsea’s.