It’s a battle of wills, of supremacy off the field. Wayne Rooney to Chelsea (even with Juan Mata going the other way) has been told as an impossible story, one that apparently would seal Manchester United’s fate as a selling club who lack the mettle to stand up to a want-away player and his suitor at the other end of the table.

United can’t sell Rooney to Chelsea, or to anyone for that matter. Well why not? It’s not the death of a football club. United are holding onto a player who doesn’t want to be there, who looks far from performing a similar u-turn to that of 2010 and signing a new contract. He’s performing well when fit, but is there an interest in the player to remain at Old Trafford, to cement a place as one of the club’s all-time greats?

Jose Mourinho spoke of United having to sell Rooney abroad, but is that a likely outcome from this protracted story? Not only is it a question of who needs him – one that extends to who will pay that much in fees and wages for him – but also does the player himself want to leave England?

Is it really an act of surrender, of accepting a place in mediocrity in this current slide? Couldn’t it be argued that Manchester United look weak by hoping that a want-away player remains and somehow changes his mind on the notion of starting afresh somewhere else? What happens to the biggest club in England if the desperate act of needing to retain a star player also extends to the perception that they’re incapable of properly replacing him? It becomes more about simply strengthening a rival.

And that’s a completely pointless argument as it is. If not Rooney, Chelsea will buy another player to come in and strengthen their attack. At this point, Chelsea are already out of sight from United’s standpoint, if not in their overall performances then certainly in the depth and quality of their squad.

Direct rival means what? That their business directly impacts the other’s position in the league? United and Chelsea potentially play clubs from Europe an equal number of times than they play each other. Aren’t Real Madrid therefore technically a rival of United, whom they strengthened considerably when they sold Cristiano Ronaldo? The Portuguese has already bitten back at his old club, scoring twice against them in the Champions League last season.

Such is the way European football is played now that teams like Juventus, Bayern and Real Madrid are as much a rival as those in domestic leagues. Adding the word “direct” is a needless attempt at reinforcing an argument.

Manchester United need an overhaul, a mass of new faces, rather than just one or two. Rooney may be persuaded to stay, but how many more times do the club and David Moyes need to go through the motions of dealing with Rooney’s uncertain future?

The player is at his peak, he’s capable of world-class performances. Isn’t the smart move to sell now, rather than play this game of who looks the stronger of the two?

Much of the same goes for Chelsea, too. They don’t want Juan Mata. He’s too good to be a bit-part player. The difference is they can make do without him. They do, however, need Rooney, or at least a striker of his calibre, in the near future. A swap seems out of hand, but is actually the most sensible and rational conclusion to this.

Manchester United and Chelsea wouldn’t be the first to hold lofty statuses in the game and release a player to a rival. Barcelona have been down this road; Borussia Dortmund have now lost their two best players to Bayern Munich in the space of six months. Arsenal, Juventus, and so on.

If United do sell Rooney – and the current feeling is that one way or another he’ll leave the club – why are they not capable of replacing? David Moyes won’t surrender this season’s title race, nor will he yield to the suggestion that Manchester United have lost some of their gloss following Alex Ferguson’s retirement and their subsequent struggles in domestic competition.

If that’s the case, what’s preventing them from buying Edinson Cavani if he became available? Karim Benzema? Diego Costa? This battle of one-upmanship will eventually come to haunt the club.

Dortmund, though you can understand their need to not lose both Mario Goetze and Robert Lewandowski in the same summer, have now foregone a transfer fee for a player who could fetch £40 million in today’s market. Where’s the sense in United doing the same, all for the sake of not being perceived to be a selling club, or however we decide to dress it up?

If United were smart, confident in their ability to recruit and not in the business of looking weak, they’d move Rooney on and concentrate on building a squad for the future. There’s absolutely no point in holding onto a player who doesn’t want to be there.

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