If Wayne Rooney has truly broken off talks over a contract and decided to leave Manchester United then there is no future for the striker at Old Trafford. That the 24-year-old has chosen to seal his exit by publicly falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson over an ankle injury only adds a layer of credibility to the story that rapidly evolved over the weekend.
It is not the first time Ferguson has fallen out with a star player, of course. The difference this time: the Scot occupies the moral high ground, with his out-of-form philandering star seemingly bereft of any reasonable justification for his actions.
It is unlikely to play well with United supporters.
Rooney is said to want a transfer after Ferguson left the striker out of the United side in recent weeks stating illness and injury, rather than the player’s indiscretion with a prostitute, as the cause. But with contract negotiations at an indefinite impasse and United unlikely to allow the striker’s deal to run down – it ends in June 2012 – a move away from the club in the next year is likely.
In common with Rooney, the autocratic Scot has previously fallen out with numerous leading stars at the club; none has remained at Old Trafford in the aftermath. David Beckham, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy can all attest to the folly of taking on Ferguson in a battle of wills. Paul Ince and Roy Keane have similar battle-scars.
No matter how big the star, Ferguson drove each out of Old Trafford because he will not countenance egos in his dressing room.
Indeed, the quartet might each argue he was at the height of his powers when the door marked exit loomed large. Beckham, just 28, was the most high-profile player on the planet. Meanwhile, van Nistelrooy had scored 150 goals in 219 games for the club. Ferguson later admitted his error in offloading Stam to Lazio in August 2001 despite the £16.5 million fee on offer from the Italians.
The Rooney case is different to previous though and not solely because the striker is the most talented player in the United dressing room. While Ferguson’s stubborn nature, personal ego or inability to deal with modern celebrity culture played a role in Beckham, Stam and van Nistelrooy’s departures, Rooney’s problems are of his own making.
Indeed, Ferguson while personally seething over the striker’s behaviour in recent months, has sought to protect his player with a fatherly air. With the benefit of hindsight, the Scot has dropped Rooney for five matches this season but in public refused to criticise his player.
What else could Ferguson do? After all, Rooney is a highly paid employee of the club and in private Ferguson no doubt sought to remind the striker of his responsibilities, while publicly protecting the player behind the mask of injury.
Rooney’s reaction to Ferguson’s strategy is seemingly both childish and lacking in judgment. The mental strength once attributed to player now evaporated along with his form, as if he genuinely believes that there are no consequences for his off-the-field behaviour.
Supporters might observe that Rooney ought to be more thankful for his manager’s support. Like those players before him, Rooney may well find life after Old Trafford is more difficult still.
Yet there now seems no way back for the pair, with Ferguson unlikely to give what little ground he can and Rooney instructing his agent to brief the media widely. It is a direct and humiliating challenge to the manager’s authority that Ferguson cannot accept without total emasculation.
In the background the spectre of Rooney’s contract looms large. While chief executive David Gill promised contract negotiations would re-open after the World Cup, the two parties have effectively been in talks for more than a year.
Money cannot be discounted from the equation, with the Rooney camp in full knowledge that United’s £140,000 per week offer can be comfortably exceeded elsewhere. The club has already risked standing accused of trying to secure Rooney on the cheap.
With around 18 months left on Rooney’s deal, the player is in a strong negotiating position both with United and other interest parties. Yet the scale of demands both from the player and United leaves a deal possible with only a select few clubs.
That elite group might reasonably include the Spanish giant Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City, with a huge fee and wages to match demanded. Even Barcelona, with its £370 million annual revenues, can no longer spend the predicted £50 million fee and £8 million annual wages it might take to lure Rooney from Old Trafford.
Madrid began the game of cat-and-mouse today when general manager Jorge Valdano denied the club has any interest in Rooney.
Chelsea, meanwhile, no longer spend at the top of the market with Roman Abramovich keen for the club to break even. From next summer Chelsea must scale back on its spending commitments to meet the new UEFA financial fair play regulations (FFP), with the initial three-year reporting period opening.
It leaves the spectre of Manchester City looming large in United’s sights. Rooney is reportedly open to a move across town and City would certainly stretch to meet any financial demands despite the need to fall within FFP regulations itself.
On the periphery of a rapid evolving story, United fans must wonder how it came to this. This time, however, few will question the manager’s judgment. The same cannot be said of the player.