Like many other United fans, I’d laughed off rumours linking Wayne Rooney with a move away from the club. Granted, it was odd that he had claimed that he’d never been injured, contrary to what Sir Alex Ferguson had said in the press, particularly because we all saw him icing his injury after coming off with an hour played against Bolton, but nothing too out of the ordinary and certainly not a cause for concern.
When United conceded a two goal advantage at home to West Brom, the Stretford End started chanting for Rooney to come on. Despite only scoring one goal by that point, a penalty back in August, there was the belief that he could come on and change the game. That belief was misguided though, Rooney played as he had all season and United drew 2-2.
Still, we all knew it was a long season and that he’d been struggling with injuries, regardless of what he claimed, and we hoped we’d see him at his best again soon.
I was out of the country when Ferguson then announced that Rooney did not want to sign a new contract and was planning to leave the club. In hindsight, it was probably for the best, as the thought of him leaving was doing my head in. I didn’t adore him the way I did before learning about him regularly sleeping with a prostitute behind his pregnant wife’s back but I still loved him as a United player and couldn’t believe he wanted out.
He had worn that ‘once a blue, always a blue’ shirt in Everton’s youth team but I hadn’t seen his departure from them as a complete betrayal. He wasn’t getting along with the manager, Everton were fighting relegation and he knew he had the ability to be playing for a club that was competing for league titles and European Cups. Maybe the right and fair thing to do would have been to stay there a bit longer but his agent, Paul Stretford, will have been bending the teenager’s ear, telling him that opportunities to play for club like Manchester United don’t come around too often, so he left. His decision was vindicated with all the medals he’s won since, not just as a part of the team, but a driving force behind the success.
All fans want to believe their players feel a connection with the club and fans. Despite being a scouser, Rooney seemed to genuinely get what was special about United. He kissed our badge, claimed he wanted to see out his career with us, that Sir Alex was the greatest manager and that he wanted to be regarded a United legend like Ryan Giggs and David Beckham. Foolishly we believed all of that. He had played the loyalty card at Everton before ditching them, so should we have been surprised he was doing it to us too?
As well as utter disappointment and extreme anger, it was hard to escape the embarrassment of the whole situation.
“There’s been no falling out,” Ferguson said. “That’s why we need to clarify the situation now for our fans. Because what we saw on Saturday was unacceptable. When we were at 2-2 and the fans were chanting for Wayne Rooney, it put pressure on the players and it didn’t do any good for the team.”
Cringe. There were our fans, chanting Rooney’s name, urging him to come off the bench and save the day, when behind the scenes he had told our manager he wanted to leave the club. Deeper than this, we’d all made our love for him well known, returning the strong feeling he’d lead us to believe he felt for our club, and to now know we’d been taken for mugs was just totally embarrassing.
“He said he wanted to stay for life,” Ferguson continued. “We were honouring that request from Wayne to stay at the club, at the club he loved. He said the best thing he’d ever done was to sign for Manchester United.”
The more cynical amongst us might claim it was an Oscar winning performance from the manager, but at the time it was painful to watch. He looked a broken man, confused by what was going on, feeling betrayed and disillusioned with the direction football was heading in. Maybe it was a bit of both, with the manager thinking carefully before hand exactly how this announcement needed to come across, whilst not being able to disguise the genuine feelings of hurt and disappointment.
But more to the confusion, which I think was entirely genuine, with the manager having gotten wind of the tapping up by Manchester City.
“We don’t understand it,” he said. “I can’t answer any questions about why he is doing it. We can speculate. We can have opinions. It won’t matter a dickie-bird, simply because the player is adamant he wants to leave. I was dumbfounded, I couldn’t understand it at all because only months before he’d said he was at the biggest club in the world and he wanted to stay for life. We just don’t know what’s changed the boy’s mind. I was shocked.”
Rooney’s image has always been of a street footballer, who loved the game, who would play for free, who was only happy when he was on the football pitch banging in goals. I’m not suggesting Rooney doesn’t love the game, course he does, but we were beginning to see the side of Rooney that wasn’t dissimilar to pretty much every footballer these days. Of course he wants to play and score goals, but money is the priority. It turns out he wasn’t special and he wasn’t a rare breed of footballer. The picture we’d had painted of Rooney and the character we had all believed in turned out to be just a myth.
Still, in Rooney’s statement, he insisted it was nothing to do with money, rather trophies. Just five months earlier, United had finished the season just one point away from winning a record four titles in a row, as well as lifting the League Cup. Was it inconceivable to think that winning trophies was still very much a likelihood at Manchester United under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson?
“For me its all about winning trophies – as the club has always done under Sir Alex,” Rooney said. “Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified.”
It all felt like a bad dream and when news emerged that City were his club of choice, things couldn’t get any worse. The mind spiralled, thinking to the future, imagine the stick he’d get from our fans in their shirt and in turn, he’d kiss their badge to rile us, just as he had done to Everton. Thinking of all the mocking City fans as Rooney guided them to their first trophy in over three decades, celebrating with Carlos Tevez, with a chorus of “once a blue, always a blue” ringing in our ears. It was unbearable.
Just as we’ve seen with Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres in recent weeks, footballers seemingly have an inability to be honest with the fans, the mugs who pay their wages. Even after Carroll had signed for Liverpool, he was trying to con the Geordies in to thinking if it had been down to him, he would have stayed.
“I was in talks about a new contract and talking to the gaffer about that,” said Carroll. “He told me that they are now not going to give me a contract. So I asked why and he said his hands were tied. He said it wasn’t up to him. Then a £35m bid got accepted. And then I was allowed to talk to Liverpool. So being shown I’m not wanted I said OK I will talk to them. Then suddenly the bid was rejected. And then Derek asked me to hand in a transfer request. So I was pushed into a corner and had no choice.”
There are a few things that don’t add up though. Carroll signed a new five year deal just three months ago, so why was he talking to Pardew about a new contract? Also, if you don’t want to leave the club, why hand in a transfer request just because you’re asked to?
Pardew shed light on the situation, answering these questions. “There was an offer refused in the morning and then we received a second improved offer,” he explained. “Myself, Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias were having a discussion when Andy Carroll poked his head around the door and said he wanted to see me. I had the conversation with Andy. He said he wanted a new contract now that would make him the highest paid player at the club. This from a guy who had signed a new deal just a few months ago. We had a conversation about him wanting a new contract, even though he signed on in October, and (he said) if he didn’t get that contract, he wanted to go. We didn’t force anybody to leave. I disagree with that point. He had a contract here for five years, and at some point it would get renewed, but for him to sign in October and it get renewed in January – where would it stop? Personally, I’m disappointed. He’s a lovely lad, and I really like him, but it was his decision, and you can’t change that.”
Just like Carroll wanted the fans to believe it wasn’t his own greed, rather what was going on behind the scenes that meant he had to leave, Rooney tried a similar trick. Pretending that Sir Alex had just fabricated Rooney’s injury indicated there had been some falling out. In his statement to the press when he confirmed he wanted to leave, he reinforced this lie.
“Despite recent difficulties, I know I will always owe Sir Alex Ferguson a huge debt. He is a great manager and mentor who has helped and supported me from the day he signed me.”
Like Pardew with Carroll, Ferguson was able to shed light on the situation and help explain why Rooney said what he did. “Why he was saying he wasn’t injured, you can only guess yourself. It’s disappointing,” Ferguson said. “We’ve never had any argument, not a bit. I think you have to understand the mechanics of these situations when people want to leave the club. It’s an easy one to say he’s fallen out with the manager, a very easy one to say.”
What changed his mind? We can only speculate. Maybe it was the angry mob showing up at his doorstep letting him know what he could expect if he signed for City. Maybe it was the improved contract. Maybe it was because being exposed as a money-hungry traitor was too big a hit for Brand Rooney to sustain so soon after the prostitute story. Who knows?
Now all of that sets the scene for the past few months, where Rooney has failed to live up to the expectation he created for himself. To claim a club like Manchester United doesn’t match his ambition indicates he is the dog’s bollocks. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, who is some kind of footballing freak/robot, Rooney put himself out there as a player who deserved to be the best paid in the league and certainly the top earner at United. If you do that, you have to come up with the goods.
Whilst Rooney has 10 assists to his name in the 16 league games he’s played, he has only scored 4 goals (one of those a penalty as well as missing a penalty against Arsenal). There have been some games when he’s been pushed out to the left and others where he has put in a really good shift, despite not getting a goal.
Whilst of course assists are an important part of the game and his vision and selflessness should be praised, the fairly awful Andrey Arshavin has assisted more goals than Rooney this season whilst West Brom’s Chris Brunt has assisted just as many. Whilst we can be glad he’s playing some role in our success, it’s hard to argue assisting goals but hardly scoring is the performance level you’d expect of someone earning £180k a week. The top salaries are reserved for the best players, the ones who can grab a game by the nuts and turn it in to a victory, who can drag an under-performing team over the finish line for the three points. Has Rooney been doing that this season?
I don’t believe in needless criticism of our players and I have been called a hypocrite for giving Rooney a hard time when I have been so staunch in my defence of Dimitar Berbatov over the years. There are several striking differences between the two situations.
Firstly, Berbatov has never endured such a goal drought in all of his seasons at the club. In his first season, Berbatov had scored 6 goals in the league by February (as well as 4 goals in the Champions League and 1 in the FA Cup against Spurs). In his second season, he had scored 8 goals in the league by February. Rooney has scored 3 goals from opening play and a penalty (as well as a penalty in the Champions League).
Secondly, Berbatov never asked for the pressure of a £30m price tag, he simply wanted to play for Manchester United. In contrast, Rooney has brought the pressure of ‘value for money’ on himself by holding the club to ransom over his £180k a week pay rise. If you are going to back the club in to a corner over your salary, you have to deliver.
Thirdly, Berbatov was given the option of earning more money at Manchester City but he didn’t even bother to meet with them. Even if he had no intention of signing for them, just having a word with Mark Hughes would have put pressure on United to up their offer. He wasn’t interested though. In contrast, whether you believe City were Rooney’s club of choice or not, what cannot be denied is the fact he was in talks with at least one other club behind United’s back. You don’t announce in October that you want to leave unless you’ve agreed a deal elsewhere. If you are going to fuck the club over, it stands to reason the fans should expect you to do something to make things right.
If you are going to behave the way Rooney has, treating the fans and club in the manner he has, then you have to do the business on the pitch to make amends and earn the top contract you’ve forced the club in to offering. I’ll never feel about him the way I did but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be over the moon if he’d banged in 30 goals this season. For as long as he’s a United player, I want him to do well, as it would be madness to wish for anything else. But he’s not doing it on the pitch and he deserves the criticism for that. Had he not revealed to the world he wanted to leave the club, this barren patch would be frustrating and would have brought about some criticism, but the defence fans gave him would be more justified. But how can anyone claim he doesn’t deserve to be criticised after trying to leave the United, agreeing a deal with another club, holding United to ransom over a massive salary, and then only scoring 4 goals by February?! 4 goals?? Marlon Harewood, Robert Huth, Kenwyne Jones and Craig Gardner are amongst the players in our league to better that this season, whilst Jermaine Beckford, Joey Barton, Dirk Kuyt and Kieran Richardson have all scored as many goals as him. Whatever you want to say about him not always playing in his favoured position, 3 goals from open play and 1 penalty is not anywhere near the standards he lead us to believe we should expect for £180k a week. He’s had close to £3m in wages alone since penning that deal.
United lost on Saturday and I’m not putting this at Rooney’s doorstep. As we have been saying all season, our midfield just isn’t strong enough. We’re of course held back by the absence of Antonio Valencia and Ji-Sung Park, as well as the long term absence of Owen Hargreaves, but Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick just haven’t been pulling their weight, Darron Gibson is struggling to prove he is anything like United quality, Paul Scholes has yet to reach top gear since returning from his lengthy spell out with injury, with Anderson the only positive, although still some way off what we would hope to expect he could be like at his best. Every away game we’re getting battered in the centre of the park and struggling to get the ball to our strikers. Rooney’s all round game wasn’t great against Wolves but whose was, and how can we expect him to score if the midfield can’t get the ball to him? But like Ronaldo between 2007 and 2009, we should be entitled to expect Rooney to help get us points even when we don’t deserve them. When the rest of the team is having an off day, as our star man, he should be raising the performance level. Has he done that since signing his new contract?
For the past few weeks, every misplaced pass of his or off target attempt has resulted in the Stretford End chanting Rooney’s name. When Rooney has been involved in the build up of a goal, fans are singing for him instead of the goalscorer. I can’t be alone in thinking this is utterly bizarre behaviour. Why on earth is he deserving of more support than any of our other players? I’m not saying boo him, I’m not saying get on his case every time he passes to the opposition or shoots wildly over the bar, but when the likes of Berbatov and Nani are scoring and assisting goals every week and get very little recognition, it becomes fairly ridiculous.
We’ve got three months until the end of the season and the team closest to us is four points behind. Obviously that makes us favourites but it doesn’t mean it’s in the bag. Saturday was a brilliant opportunity for us to stretch our lead at the top and we blew it. The games are only going to get more difficult and we need our players to step up to the plate. As a team, we need that desire and grit, but we need our special individuals in particular to shine. Now is the time, at long last, for Rooney to show that our club was right to bend over backwards and beg him not to leave us. We want that 19th title and Rooney owes it us to be driving force behind that, not just a well paid passenger.
The RoM 2019-20 Season Preview is available for just £6. It includes an EXCLUSIVE interview with Rafael Da Silva, a Q&A with the country's top journalists, articles by brilliant United writers, and so much more. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.