Wayne Rooney’s infidelity in the past week – no, not the one with the £1,200-a-night hooker – may be forgiven the next time the 24-year-old striker scores but it will not come easy to Manchester United’s supporters. Rooney’s hardball tactics won an offensively lavish new contract but it came at the expense of the striker’s reputation and credibility.
In truth Rooney can never truly regain the respect and love United fans have shown the Scouser in six years at Old Trafford. This autumn’s events have damaged the relationship between player and fan and no amount of goals – or indeed badge kissing – will change the fact Rooney willingly courted a transfer to Manchester City for the past four months until United came up with a contract offer large enough.
Love, they say is blind, but then so is the hurt caused when somebody you love betrays you. Emotive words perhaps but then there is nothing rational about fandom. Rationally, there’s nothing wrong with an employee seeking the best deal possible, especially in a career which is short but there’s that irrationality of football fandom again.
After all, the mess of the past week is almost entirely the fault of Rooney and his agent. History and reputation dictates that fans should blame Paul Stretford but Rooney put his name to the negotiating tactics employed by the former vacuum cleaner salesman.
Rooney has shown disrespect to his manager, players, fans and the club and its entirely unacceptable. The apology, which Sir Alex Ferguson promised is forthcoming, should be forthright and totally unconditional.
However, Rooney’s antics did at least highlight once again the mess that is the Glazer ownership, even if some supporters would rather sell their souls to the devil than admit the damage the American carpetbaggers have done to a 125-year-old institution.
Rooney lost the public relations battle because Ferguson superbly tugged on the fans’ heart strings, painting Rooney as a greedy mercenary; the scourge of the modern game. But, objectively, Rooney is right that United has lacked the ‘ambition’ – read money – to compete with Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona over the past five years. The black and white facts show that the club has spent less in the transfer market and pays less in wages than the aforementioned quartet.
Under-spending will factor into the club’s success – in fact United is successful despite the economics of the club in recent years.
The cynic might suggest short-term spending to placate the protest movement is likely. In truth the heavy spending next summer predicted by many media outlets only pushes back financial problems to another date. Unless Payment-in-Kind (PIK) debt is paid down or bond debt bought back, United will need to pay back, directly or via its parent company, £1.1 billion in 2017. There’s no getting around that stark truth.
More realistically United must refinance in the medium term, with the Glazer family showing no desire to deleverage soon, if ever. In the short-term player sales are inevitable if the family is to enable Ferguson to freshen up the squad while paying down PIK debt.
Indeed, it would be no surprise if Rooney moved on late next summer, with the close season providing shelter for the Glazer family from protest and the damaging financial effect of further season ticket boycotts. Some critics believe that the next three years represent Rooney’s best years in any case. That off-the-field distractions and the player’s lifestyle will lead to an early peak and inevitable decline.
In that scenario United’s best strategy might be to sweat the asset for all its worth now and then sell Rooney to the highest bidder before 2013. Cynical perhaps but then that is the very same game Rooney has played with the club in the past week. Finances might dictate it happens sooner.
Perhaps the best estimate: United will spend around £60 million in the summer 2011 transfer window on a replacement goalkeeper and an experienced central midfielder, plus perhaps one or two younger squad players. This budget will include player sales: Michael Carrick, Wes Brown, Park Ji-Sung, Tomasz Kuszczak and hopefully Darron Gibson.
It is not spending comparable to United’s place in the world but it will placate those fans happy to be bought off by spin and some shiny new players.
Fundamentally, the economics of spending more do not stack up. That PIK debt is growing by the day is beyond doubt; the only calculation the Glazers will make is what spending is required to keep United in the top four and ensure supporters sign on the dotted line when season ticket renewal comes round next summer.
In that regard Rooney’s signature is a welcome relief for the Glazer regime, backed to the hilt by Ferguson. Fans though must look beyond the superficial and remember the long-term problems ahead.
Read United Rant and other bloggers on Rooney at the Republik of Mancunia.