For some, the Wayne Rooney saga has held all the attractions of watching the seventh re-run of a ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ episode on a wet Sunday evening, with the depressing prospect of getting up for work the following day. Sad to say however, this is how contemporary football transfer business is conducted, and it’s made all the more inevitable by the unloved concoction of the ‘Transfer Window.’ Unloved that is, except by the media, which rejoices in the opportunity to keep football in the news throughout the summer months, even when there’s no major international tournaments. This strangely conceived retail therapy session means that from any time post-December, to the last kick of the season, there’s an ever-intensifying rumour mill of who goes where, for how much and why. Players’ egos are ratcheted up, and agents get all of a tingle at the prospect of more lucrative deals, with lashings of lucre, to nail down. Then, when the window finally opens, all the hyped-up craziness spills out, engulfing the expectant football public in a torrent of speculation fuelling dreams of just what your club will do for next season. It’s just the reality of football today. So, if the Merseysider’s attempts to change employers – and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re talking about here - is getting a bit boring for you, don’t blame him, his advisors or either of the clubs involved, it’s just all part of ritual dance required these days, and everyone knows their steps by heart.
Now 27 years old, Rooney should be at the peak of his powers. These should be his golden years, when the opportunity to combine undoubted ability, the experience and game knowledge gained through years of top level playing time and the still exuberant energy of youth, produce performances to define his career. Sadly however, this has proved not to be the case. Rooney has cut an increasingly forlorn figure; a player with a need to be finessed into form by a warm arm around the shoulder. Instead he appears to feel that he has received the ‘cold shoulder’ from his club. This has led many to conclude that it’s been clear for some time that the player has been looking for the exit door from Old Trafford. The arrival at the club last summer of Robin van Persie, although clearly a storming success for the club, appears to have been eating away at his confidence and the esteem he feels that the club has for him. Although still offering moments of sublime talent, they have become fleeting cameos, and he, a pastiche of his former self.
The arrival of David Moyes from Everton, was never really going to be the fresh start that could have reinvigorated the 27 year old’s career. It was thought that too much history between the pair would preclude that, and when Moyes quickly showed who was in charge, that was rapidly borne out. And so we reach the tipping point where it seems that all of the parties know what will happen, but have to play out their roles in such a way that, when the music stops, they can say “it wasn’t my fault.” Take your partners for the transfer tango – or should that be ‘can-go.’
At Old Trafford, United surely accept that the only resolution is that the player leaves the club. In an ideal world, they’d prefer to sell him abroad, but with PSG now apparently with their transfer hunger sated by the arrival of Edison Cavani for a staggering £50odd million, there may be few options available. Back in England, the “least bad option” would be Arsenal, if only because they are deemed as less of a challenge to the Manchester hegemony than Chelsea. It’s clear however, that for a while at least, United will play the coquettish role of a reluctant participant in the ritual. “Rooney is not for sale” they declare. In time we may look back and think that they ‘doth protest too much.’ Hanging a ‘no sale’ sign around the neck of a unhappy employee, who sees his future elsewhere, is hardly conducive to fostering the fervent team spirit so identified with Manchester United squads. The question has to be how long they will persist with this stance before they can declare to the fans that, after efforts to convince the player that his future was at Old Trafford, they had decided let him go “for the good of the club” or something similar. That or any other way of saying “it’s not our fault” will suffice. It’s at this point that United fans across the country will decide to test the flammability of shirts adorned with 10 and ‘Rooney.’ This could be deemed as a national fire hazard to rank alongside 5th November.
For the player himself, whilst he probably does feel that the arrival of the Dutch goal machine threatens his position as the preeminent striker at the club, it’s also important to play the injured party. Whilst it now appears clear that there was a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson, a chance to reenergize the player was probably scorned when United chose to appoint David Moyes as Ferguson’s successor. It would of course be wrong to suggest any player should have a veto on who his club put in charge, but it seems incongruous to assume that someone amongst the gathered United glitterati, that sat round the table and made the Moyes appointment, didn’t think to themselves something along the lines of “well, that Rooney out of here, then.”
Walking around with what people from my neck of the woods would describe as ‘a face like a wet weekend’ however, doesn’t really cut it if you want to be appreciated as the injured party, so when Moyes made his now celebrated description of Rooney’s role, the player’s advisors leapt upon a couple of out of context sentences with ravenous hunger. Here’s the hook to hang our hat on! And so, the “angry and confused” line was born, and talk was leaked that Rooney had told ‘high up people’ at the club that he wasn’t prepared to be a squad player behind van Persie. Well, that was what Moyes said wasn’t it? Erm, actually, no. Not really. No matter, the cat was out the bag, now. At this stage, so some people may argue, ‘Rooney’s people’ could also leak out that he didn’t think he had anything left to prove to the club, and that he wasn’t happy for any perceived loss of form to be linked to any apparent failure to ‘look after himself.’ With each passing comment, the rift between player and club widened. At this stage it’s probably past the point of no return already, and the coup de grace of the transfer request will be the equivalent of the “Gentleman’s Excuse Me.” It’s probably something he would rather avoid, but United may just force his hand. Rooney’s dancing days at United will then be done, and the next name on his card will be Chelsea.
Down at Stamford Bridge, the returning Jose Mourinho was always going to be on the lookout for a rock to drop into the pool. The desire to make a splash is a defining characteristic of the Portuguese, and signing one of the country’s highest profile players, from one of his chief rivals – forgetting for a moment that he’s also not a bad player either – would fit the bill nicely. Although probably one of the last clubs in the country to worry about fostering a good reputation, Chelsea too want to be able to paint a picture of merely doing business in the correct way. Mourinho has been quick to say that he can’t talk about another club’s player.but, yes of course he likes Rooney, but he’s a United player. Of course Rooney not playing regular first team football would be bad for England, but he’s a United player. Yes, I like Rooney’s style, but.well, you know the rest. Taking a leaf from Mourinho’s former employers, Real Madrid’s book, Chelsea have also had had other players commenting on the situation. Eden Hazard has commented that: “Rooney would be a brilliant signing. He’s a great player who has the experience and he’s still only young, at 27.” He didn’t appear to add “.but he’s a United player, but I’m sure we all got the picture. Now news of an initial bid has been leaked, the cards are on the table face up. Quite how Mata and Luiz’s names became entangled in all of the shenanigans is difficult to discern at this stage, but Chelsea remain adamant that it was none of their doing. It could end up being a bit messy from here, but dance hall fights aren’t that unusual. With the bid rejected – as first bids inevitably always are – Chelsea will now hunker down and come up with something better. This is the next phase, before eventually a deal will probably be struck. And so this is Chelsea’s courtship of the player. It’s an invitation to dance, with a promise not to tread on Rooney’s toes – Ouchee! Watch out for that metatarsal!
It’s a hackneyed old phrase, but ‘come the end of the day’ seems a highly appropriate way of looking at the denouement of this affair – it will be the end of a very long day. With bookies already giving odds-on prices for Rooney to be starting the new season in Chelsea blue, there’s a seemingly inevitable movement towards that consequence. Deep down, from the perspective of all parties, it seems the most likely conclusion. When the lights go off in the dance hall, it look like Chelsea will be calling a taxi to take Rooney home and United will be left sitting in a chair with a pocket full of brass, some happy, but now perhaps bittersweet, memories and the prospect of looking for a new partner. Oh, yes. And the burnt fragments of a number 10 United shirt.