When Wayne Rooney confirmed that he was not prepared to sign a contract extension in 2010 it appeared as though there was no way back for him at United. Whilst some fans don’t want to believe it, Rooney, through the work of his agent Paul Stretford, had been in talks with Manchester City and planned to sign the biggest contract of his career with them.
Fortunately for United, the press ridiculed his claim that United was not the club that could match him ambition, given that Sir Alex Ferguson hadn’t gone longer than a season without a trophy since winning the FA Cup in 1990, twenty years earlier. The manager also played a blinder in the press conference, appearing totally vulnerable and heartbroken, expressing his confusion as to why a player we had taken such good care of would be keen to leave the club.
With it appearing as though the knock to ‘brand Rooney’ would be too much to take, being exposed as a money hungry footballer, rather than the grounded street footballer he had always been seen as, he gladly accepted the offer to become United’s best paid player, earning at least £250k-a-week.
In RoM’s season preview, The Guardian’s chief football writer, Daniel Taylor, claimed that Rooney’s change of heart was genuine.
I can remember seeing him in the mixed zone after the Champions League semi-final against Schalke and asking him about his first transfer request. “How wrong was I?” he said. And he looked genuinely embarrassed.
Rooney repeatedly claimed this was the biggest mistake of his career and he has gone on to win two league titles and play in a European Cup final in the three years since, justifying his decision to stay.
However, whatever has gone on behind the scenes, whether it be his dissatisfaction with Robin van Persie becoming our main man, personal issues with Ferguson or Stretford whispering in his ear, Rooney decided yet again that it was time to leave United.
Rooney didn’t hand in a written transfer request but in a conversation with Ferguson he confirmed he wanted to leave. Maybe Ferguson revealed this because he wanted to get his revenge on Rooney for his behaviour in 2010, or maybe he wanted to make David Moyes’ life easier, by revealing that Rooney wanted to leave before Moyes got the job, so our new manager wasn’t blamed for the player’s unhappiness. Maybe it was a combination of the two, but Rooney’s silence all summer speaks volumes about his desire to leave the club.
I remember how I felt back in 2010, genuinely shocked that Rooney had conned us all, and terrified about the prospect of him winning the title for City and kissing their badge in response to all the abuse our fans would give him. Carlos Tevez was bad enough, with sections of our crowd drowning our Ferguson’s title winning speech in 2009 with chants of “Fergie, sign him up!”, but Rooney’s betrayal would have been so much worse.
Whilst joining Chelsea wouldn’t have been as crushing, I still didn’t enjoy the thought of him cuddling up with Ashley Cole and John Terry, showing the Chelsea badge some love, and rubbing our faces in a title win with Jose Mourinho.
Had an offer come in from abroad I would have been happy to see United sell Rooney, but with only Chelsea and Arsenal, last season’s 3rd and 4th best teams, showing an interest, it made sense that the club did all they could to hang on to him.
The crowd have shown Rooney far more respect than he deserves, chanting his name away to Swansea and at home to Chelsea, but that helped United’s position. He was rightly fearful of his future at the club, given United fans showed up at his house in 2010, telling him that he was dead if he signed for City, but the reaction has been very different this time around. It has stopped Stretford from playing his final card in his bid to get Rooney out of the club, as Rooney can’t use the fans as a reason to get a transfer.
Following our draw with Chelsea, Mourinho called on Rooney to make his desire known, and hand in a transfer request. Instead, Rooney sung the praises of our fans, saying: “It was an unbelievable reaction from the fans, so thank you. I really appreciate your support. It means a lot.” He knew then that there was no chance of United selling him to Chelsea, so he had to make his peace with the fans.
Rooney has two years remaining on the contract that he signed in 2010 and earlier in the summer it was presumed that United would sell him on the cheap next summer if we didn’t sell him this year. Presuming Mourinho was still interested, Chelsea would be his club of choice. However, reports in the press have claimed that the Glazers are prepared to let him leave on a free in 2015, if needs be, rather than sell him to a title rival. Whilst this stance seems a contradiction of what you would expect under the Glazer regime, the logic is that the transfer fee United could demand for Rooney with a year left would not be worth what his transfer to Chelsea could cost us.
Last season, even when not performing very well, Rooney was still one of the most effective players in the league. Imagine him at Chelsea, who are in desperate need of a top class striker, and imagine how much success he could have there. Even if you forget the money Rooney’s profile brings to the club, the trophies and success United would be denied by having one of their best players thriving when playing for a rival would cost the club a fortune. That’s why Rooney was seen as a perfect transfer for City years ago. Not only would he strengthen them, but his capture would weaken their main rivals, and the same can be said of Chelsea now.
Reports today suggest that the club are prepared to offer Rooney another contract extension to keep him at Old Trafford in to his 30’s. His current deal will expire a couple of months before his 30th birthday.
This situation presents Rooney with a big decision. Either he can sign the new deal that United offer, essentially ensuring he spends all of the best years of his career at United, or he takes the chance of seeing out his contract and hoping that a top club signs him on a free in a couple of years. Given that only two clubs made their interest in him public this summer, it’s a big gamble for Rooney to turn down an extension with United now in the hope that a big club is prepared to pay him a lot of money when he’s approaching 30-years-old. Given how he abuses his body in the closed season, drinking, smoking and eating poorly, he isn’t likely to experience the kind of career Ryan Giggs has enjoyed.
So, if Rooney has any sense, he will sign any deal United offer, even if it is incentivised with performance related bonuses, rather than a flat wage. But the question remains, does he deserve it?
There aren’t many players who want to leave United and there are even fewer who opt to leave, confirm they are so proud to be given the opportunity to stay, then fancy a move a few years later. If Rooney does see out the remaining two years on his contract, he is likely to become the club’s highest ever scorer. If he signs an extension this record is almost a certainty. Is this the sort of player we want to see break Sir Bobby Charlton’s record? When Giggs broke Charlton’s record in Moscow for the 2008 Champions League final, it was a proud occasion for the club, but the man who twice wanted to leave United for title rivals becoming our all time top scorer is a less proud occasion.
I’m not shy on giving my opinion on Rooney, I think the guy is a prick, and someone totally undeserving of wearing our shirt and a place in our history books. But equally, football is no longer a place for idealistic fans, who prefer loyalty over success, as so much is at stake. For a club hundreds of million in debt, we can’t afford to shun top talent for players who kiss the badge and mean it. So whilst I feel no loyalty towards Rooney, I can still appreciate what an important player he is for us, and even though I’d prefer the likes of PSG to give us £40m for him, to spend on a player who would be desperate to play for us, I find it hard to ignore that keeping him would be in the best interests of the club.
Whilst I can dream that Danny Welbeck will some day break our goalscoring record, I will be happy enough to see the honour earned by Rooney, if it means a few more league titles coming our way. But I will forever be disappointed that Rooney’s United career has been tainted by disloyalty. Once upon a time I really believed he understood what it meant to play for our club and whatever he goes on to achieve, it will be spoilt by his behaviour over the past three years.
“Once a blue, always a red” is what we used to chant. That still may be true, but not through the choice of the player. However, if Rooney brings more success to the club, we will just have to get over his repeated betrayals. This club has to be successful and, whether we like it or not, Rooney’s inclusion is more likely to make that happen. But the moment he isn’t good enough, we should cut him loose and let him sign for any club willing to deal with him. We can use him and take him for all he’s worth, the same as he did us, and hope that there will be a few more trophies for United along the way.