A good beginning is probably self-criticism, for being naive and allowing myself to think the modern poison of the game had been kept out of our players, which only made this past week more painful. Painful? Yes, I’m more than aware of how pathetic that sounds but sadly it is true. It certainly has been a reality check for me.
I looked down my nose at Steven Gerrard and John Terry and all the fans that supported them. Fancy worshipping someone who painted themselves as being so loyal, then totally betraying the club, then being rewarded with a bigger and better contract for making public their mercenary nature? Embarrassing. But that’s the reality we are now faced with at Manchester United and I hate it.
Whilst we’re lucky to have a much larger chunk of former academy players in our first team squad than any other team at the top, something which certainly helps us in the loyalty stakes, we’re not exempt from mercenaries.
The killer though, is that it was Wayne Rooney who made us learn this lesson. Some of you may be rolling your eyes, tutting at my naivety, but I honestly thought he got it. When he kissed our badge, when he talked about wanting to spend the rest of his career here, I thought it was because he got how special this club was. I thought he was acutely aware of the magic of our manager, the passion of our fans and the enormity of our history.
Maybe, once upon a time, he did get it. Maybe I’m being unfair to presume he has been conning us for the past six years. I would honestly like to believe that but it’s unlikely. It stands to reason the longer you stay with a club the more strongly you feel about it, particularly a club like ours, so his behaviour this week has cast a shadow over his entire United career.
Whilst that stings, it’s nothing compared to the searing pain of realising that City were the club he was preparing to leave us for. There were moments this week when I was almost hoping to hear that Real Madrid had captured his signature, a concept which just a week before had me laughing. “Sign for City and you’re dead” the men in black told Rooney this week, an idle threat, but one which summed up the feelings of our fans. Leaving us for Chelsea was certainly the lesser of two evils, even if it meant our chances of securing the title any time soon would be diminished, although the idea of seeing him wear their shirt, slapping John Terry and Frank Lampard’s back in celebration and winning trophies with them was horrible. But that was nothing compared to him helping City realise their revolution, re-united with Carlos Tevez, and the talk of the power shift not sounding as utterly ridiculous as it had just weeks earlier.
Rooney was in talks with City back in July though, two months after celebrating wildly following our late win against them, four months after claiming he had years ahead at the club and wanted to match our fans’ respect for Beckham, five months after scoring the goal that knocked City out of the League Cup and scoring in the final to help us win the trophy, six months after claiming City had nothing on us and we were “by far” the biggest club in the world, and eight months after he said he wanted to end his career at United. How could he even think about leaving us for our hated rivals?
But don’t be under any illusions that he wasn’t prepared to do it. Just because he bottled it, following Sir Alex’s heartfelt press conference, intense reaction from the fans, and totally bemused commentary from the world’s media, does not mean that he hadn’t made the decision to leave us for Manchester fucking City.
He has signed for £160k-a-week though, just a £20k-a-week increase on what we initially offered him, and £50-100k less a week than he would have got at City, which does deserve a mention. No, I won’t go overboard on how good it is of him to play for United on just £160k-a-week, but it shows common sense has prevailed in some respect.
Still, after broaching the topic with the club in mid-August, presumably not mentioning the fact he had been tapped up by City, but the idea that he needed more to keep him around, the club didn’t go on to show their intentions of future success in an aggressive enough manner for Rooney. Still, it’s hard to ignore the money that has spent even over the past three summers, on the likes of Hargreaves, Anderson, Nani, Tevez, Berbatov, Valencia, Smalling, Obertan, Diouf, Chicharito and Bebe. That’s hardly a club lacking ambition but it is arguably the spending that has gone on since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure that has raised the biggest eye-brows. Is there any player we could have signed who would have guided us to Premiership victory last season, in light of our crippling defensive injuries? Who knows, but for Valencia’s good first season, a few vital goals from Owen, and just the beginnings from Obertan, we didn’t have enough.
For another transfer window to go by and for us to just bring in young players, on lower salaries, was seemingly too much for poor Wazza. Whilst it was completely unacceptable for Rooney to voice these concerns in the public domain, courtesy of the statement written by his ‘people’, it was hard to shrug off the message behind them.
We’re now in a position where the club are being forced to bring in a star or two, with rumours already gathering speed over which players are on their way. Sir Alex spoke of the top players whose agents were always in contact with his secretary so maybe he’ll now do the courteous thing of ringing them back. Whilst I’ll never support the way Rooney has gone about this, we are left in a better situation for it. Where will the Glazers get the cash from? That is for them to work out but it is clear if they want to hang on to Rooney, they need to start buying proper players.
Still, whilst not bringing in big name players is an issue, it doesn’t quite match up with what Rooney has said about his need for signs of ‘ambition’ at the club.
The season before he signed for us, we’d finished 3rd, never really in the title race, behind Chelsea who had reached the semis of the European Cup and Arsenal who had enjoyed their unbeaten season. In his first season with the club we finished 3rd again, never in the title race, and didn’t even have a trophy as consolation. In his second season we finished 2nd, still miles behind Chelsea, but won the League Cup to give us something to cheer about. It wasn’t until the end of his third season that we won the league but were massively outclassed in Europe when confronted with AC Milan.
Are we to believe that winning something for a fifth consecutive season, just 1 point away from winning a record breaking fourth title, as well as reaching two European Cup finals in the past three years, was suddenly not good enough for Rooney? It just doesn’t add up. A contributing factor, no doubt, but only after some thoughts had been planted in his head.
Which leads us to Paul Stretford, the agent, whose ban meant it was February/March before we could have conceivably started negotiations anyway. This then coincided with his injury and the end of the season, before Stretford no doubt put the club off further, allowing time for the World Cup, but more importantly, his conversations with City.
I think it’s important we don’t put everything at Stretford’s door, as ultimately, Rooney is accountable for his own actions, but it would be mad to ignore that it is the agent who has been the driving force behind this.
If you haven’t done so already, you must read the article in The National by Andrew Cole, who used to have Stretford as his agent once upon a time. Yes, this is the fella who was lining up a move for Stan Collymore to United, but then dropped him, and got Cole the deal instead (thank fuck).
The former vacuum cleaner salesman was relatively new to the game when Scott Sellars, my Newcastle United teammate, told me that there was someone I should meet.
Stretford got to work, lining up Manchester United. He became a big part of my life. He got me a British record transfer to United in 1995. Before I left, Sellars told me that Stretford would be brilliant for as long as I was making him money. I remembered that later.
I moved to Manchester and stayed at Stretford’s house as he made me part of the family. I thought it was a generous gesture – I later found out that he had been deducting rent from my earnings.
My agent was influential in every area of my life. He invited me to family functions and controlled what I said to the media. He hated the idea of anyone getting close to me, just as he does with Wayne. He was very domineering, but I let him be like that because I thought he had my best interest at heart. He told journalists that they couldn’t ask certain things and lined up commercial deals. He gave me advice about everything I did. I made him so much money that he became a wealthy man, but I didn’t mind because I considered him to be a decent agent and a friend.
But Stretford obviously considered me to be a client and nothing more, because as soon as I stopped making him money I didn’t hear from him. Stretford wasn’t motivated by friendships, but money. I wasn’t the only player who stopped hearing from him when I’d served my purpose. People don’t speak well of him. I’ve seen him a few times since and he’s had nothing more than a grunt from me.
Just as he’s weaselled his way in to the lives of footballers in the past, Stretford has got Rooney under his spell now too. It stands to reason that Stretford has Rooney thinking that they’re best mates and that he has his best interests at heart, therefore found it easy enough to convince Rooney that he would be better off at City.
The problem is, whether Rooney eventually agreed with Stretford or not, to put his name to that statement was a massive kick in the teeth for the manager, the players and the fans.
Whilst plenty have used this fiasco as a stick to beat the Glazers with, claiming Rooney was entitled to have these concerns, it doesn’t change the fact Rooney has told the world’s media that he doesn’t think his team mates are good enough. When he’s sitting in that changing room before kick-off, he’s looking at his team-mates, and doubting their ability and he’s made sure the whole world know about it to excuse his desire to leave.
Patrice Evra has responded angrily to this, understandably, and is unlikely to be alone in this. “If one player in the team does not trust the others, he should not play in the team,” he said. “I trust everyone, I know we can win.”
Rooney has upset his team mates here, not just with his statement but timing of this, and that’s going to take a lot to undo.
As for Sir Alex, I’m sure he’s had a shock and won’t ever see Rooney the same way. Whilst the manger is more than aware of changing times in football, with David Beckham teaching him that lesson better than anyone else, there will have been no way he was expecting Rooney to try and force a move to City. It’s hard to imagine he’ll ever hold Rooney in the same regard as the likes of Ronaldo or Keane, despite their moves away from the club. At least the manager knew where he stood with both of them, whilst Rooney has been dishonest, painting himself as something different to what he is.
It is the forgiveness of the fans which will be the hardest to achieve though, with plenty of our players aware of what Arsene Wenger has described as the norm in football these days and Sir Alex so reliant on Rooney for his ability, not his loyalty. It’s different for the fans though. This damage will never be undone even if over time it can be smoothed over.
I have voiced my anger throughout the week and don’t regret a word of it. Regardless of how the situation has been resolved, it doesn’t change what Rooney has done. The club managed to change his mind but that doesn’t alter the fact Rooney had made his decision to go.
Some say we shouldn’t expect loyalty from the lad but he lead us to believe we had every reason to think he meant all his assertions about spending his career here. From this point on, I don’t expect a thing from him, other than 100% in every game. In return, he’ll have my indifference. I’ll be happy when he scores, because he’s scoring for United, and I’ll be happy when he plays well, because he will be contributing to our success, but he’ll never mean to me what he did before. I don’t like him, on a professional or a personal level, and will forever be angry and upset over the way he disrespected our club and brought such embarrassment to our fans.
There will be fans who have a much harsher attitude than mine though and will give him all the stick Rio Ferdinand got, for what we can now see as a lesser crime. They’ll be happy when he leaves and won’t have time for him at all.
Others will welcome him back like the Prodigal Son, just as the scousers did for Gerrard and rentboyz did for Terry, and what can we expect? In the days when players claim loyalty to their club only to try and betray them for their local rivals, why should we expect fans to condemn players for their disloyalty and respond to them any differently because of that?
People will be singing his name, sooner or later, which will happen because he’s doing well for the team. If he scores important goals then people will forgive the heart ache and stress he’s caused.
As far as Rooney goes, sacking Stretford would go a long way in repairing burnt bridges, but that won’t happen.
We may now see some more high profile players join the ranks and more money spent in the transfer window. How will that happen? That is something for the Glazers to work out.
Equally, we might still see Rooney heading out of the exit door sooner rather than later, regardless of who we buy or what we win. The contract has ensured we get a good price for him and that we can handle the sale on our own terms, as we did with Ronaldo. If Rooney is desperate to leave in the summer, then that his choice, but he won’t be going to City, because we are under no pressure to sell to them now.
We should all be a little bit wiser, sadly, a little bit more cynical but essentially, totally relieved. I’m happier that he didn’t shame us by joining City than I am with him still being a United player. I had resigned myself to the fact he would never wear our shirt again, which was manageable, but the thought of him playing for them turned my stomach. You see how Everton fans have become, totally bitter and hateful, and the idea of that being how we would be presented drove me mad. We’d boo him and tear him apart, then in response, he’d kiss their badge.
As it is, we’ve just made them look foolish, as John Terry did, for believing that their money could convince important players to leave successful clubs for their trophyless outfit. Garry Cook will be seething at how amateur they’ve been made to look again whilst their fans return to the megastore to replace their City shirts which they got ‘Rooney 10’ printed on.
But for all the mocking we do of them, for all the goals Rooney will go on to score against them and others, all the trophies he’ll win with us, it will never undo what has gone on here.
He is forever ruined in my eyes and forgiving or forgetting is off the agenda for me. This is a desperately disappointing situation to have been put in but we have to look to the silver-lining. We should bring in better players, Rooney should have the impetus to play well to make amends and bring back the worship, we’ll never leave important players with just 18 months remaining on their contract and we can appreciate the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes so much more.
The RoM Manchester United 2022-23 season preview is now available for just £6. It includes exclusive interviews with Patrice Evra and Kleberson, articles from the country's best football writers about our expectations for the season ahead and our brightest talents, as well as proposed transfer business and which youth players to keep an eye out for. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.