It was an uneasy listen when, in 2010, Alex Ferguson talked about the reality of the situation, that Wayne Rooney was on the brink of departing Manchester United.
The weight of Rooney’s then new contract went hand-in-hand with the shock of the news, the unsettlingly vulnerable state Ferguson portrayed the club being in, and the seismic shift which eventually led to the player extending his stay with the club.
This feels different. A little over three years on and we’re back where we once were, talking of Rooney and a thunderous halt as he steamed down a tunnel with a speck of blue growing larger in the distance. £300,000 per week is terms he’ll reportedly sign on for now, a fifty grand increase on what he was on previously and what United said they wouldn’t better.
It’s curious that a club of this size, this importance to football and with the level of financial nous they have shown in recent times have been unable to guard themselves from the cunning of the Rooney camp. It’s twice now, back-to-back contracts, in which Rooney and his advisors have not only gotten what they wanted – and probably more if his new contract comes with the position of club captain – but also that they’ve made the club look exceptionally weak in a period which needs strong and uplifting action.
It’s not just to say United have had their pants pulled down by the player; they’ve pretty much offered a hand in it themselves.
The picture they’re painting (or which they will eventually paint) is that in a time as damaging as this, they’ve managed to retain a player of huge importance to them and England when it appeared the only outcome was for a summer switch, likely to Chelsea. The club will talk up the way in which those behind the scenes, Ed Woodward, have been able to deliver on two influential pieces of business, capping the Juan Mata deal with that of Rooney’s new contract.
From the outside, however, that image is a little off.
What this says is that United have grown fearful of their position in the game and that of their nearest domestic rivals. Whether or not they can compete with Manchester City and Chelsea in the transfer market is one thing, but to lose a player of the stature of Rooney to one of them (coincidentally it was City who looked the most obvious destination for Rooney in 2010) would be catastrophic. At least that’s what we’re being told, by both the club, indirectly, and the wider media, who simply can’t get their heads around the fact that big players can and do switch between heavyweight domestic rivals.
What this says is that United can’t replace Rooney in the market, that they’d rather keep hold of a player who has shown such inconsistency at club level and frustrating underachievement on the international stage, as well as the drama of two transfer/contract sagas, instead of parting ways and moving on for good.
It’s a sign of insecurity. It unbelievable, laughable but also a bit worrying that Manchester United would rather pay Rooney £300,000 per week – basically Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo money – when they initially said they wouldn’t. We can talk about the financial side of it in however much depth as is required, manipulating the figures to suit either side of the argument. But the total the club will eventually spend on Rooney, who is 28, over the next five-and-a-half years could easily have been better spent elsewhere.
In 2010 amid the original saga, Sergio Aguero was a name tipped to replace Rooney. Even without the drama that has come with Rooney over the past three years – and of course the fitness issues – surely United fans would have no qualms about swapping Rooney for Aguero.
United have had the idea peddled, either by themselves or for them, that they’re still a big draw, that players around the world still want to call Old Trafford home. And that’s a fair statement to make. United are at their lowest point anyone has seen for decades, but it’s off the back of less than a season. It could all change by the end of the summer.
So why are the club committing to a player who not only doesn’t deserve such a sizeable increase in pay based on ability, but also one who has shown such public detachment from the club?
Rooney has gotten what he wanted. The majority would have found it hard for him to move abroad due to cultural differences and difficulties.
For United, they’ve confirmed how far they’ve fallen. How they’re unable to identify a replacement. How they’ve been unable to break away from the past and all the negatives it has brought by showing desperation for a player who doesn’t deserve this level of treatment.