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MARTIN SAMUEL: Once a red always a red? It's not a sure thing for Wayne Rooney

25 Jan 2010 01:18:54

MARTIN SAMUEL: Once a red always a red? It's not a sure thing for Wayne Rooney

There is something strange happening around Wayne Rooney. It is whispered that Manchester United have asked him to open talks on a new contract, but he is refusing to negotiate until after the World Cup. The club deny this, saying they are perfectly happy to wait until the summer, too. Yet the rumours persist. All the while, stories linking the player with a major transfer to Spain Real Madrid or Barcelona, obviously appear with increasing regularity. Games of brinkmanship are familiar to all those who follow transfer negotiations. The player wants to stay but his advisers wish to extract the best deal. To do this, they must create a little buzz, a degree of uncertainty around their client. That can be achieved in two telephone calls when a player is as good as Rooney. Plant a story here, offer a little encouragement there. On the mark: Rooney is on course for his best goalscoring record Newspaper men like transfer gossip and it is in Madrid's interests to play along just in case. United's stance is that Rooney has a contract until 2012 and is very happy. They do not envisage any difficulties when the time comes to talk. So, one question: what would happen if Sir Alex Ferguson retired? It is a proposition that is real enough for the owners to have considered it in a recent financial prospectus. He is 68 and will not make the mistake of trailing a departure date as he did the last time. When Ferguson steps aside it will be sudden. Suppose it happened before Rooney made a long-term commitment to Manchester United. Could speculation that is currently regarded as mischievous suddenly take a serious turn? End of an era: The sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid signalled a passing of the 'world's biggest club' baton between the two sides This is all hypothetical and, as such, easily dismissed. Yet theunderlying truth is that, since the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo,Manchester United are regarded as vulnerable. This weakness runs deeper than the current financial issues affecting the Glazer family.   More from Martin Samuel... MARTIN SAMUEL: Greed, hypocrisy and an emission that's truly toxic21/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Champions keep their head when madness rages...19/01/10 Martin Samuel: Glazers may be bad for United but that is good for the game...17/01/10 Hand Pietersen a rise in status: Trott's spot is perfect to restore KP's powers17/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Rain the only shield against warrior Smith and South Africa15/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: If Graham Onions is a legend, why gamble?14/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Our best friends are now a better class of torturer 14/01/10 BROAD EXCLUSIVE: I don't care if I am liked, I only care about being a winner13/01/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE  It is a malaise that is traceable to the day United sanctioned the sale of their best player to Real Madrid. At that moment the club suffered a loss of status more damaging than defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final. Losing an isolated game, even if it means surrendering the standing of best team in Europe, is a temporary setback. Losing Ronaldo, by contrast, was epochal.   The transfer spoke of a shift in prestige, ambition, potential, capability. It made plain that the power had passed from England to Spain. United had the best player in the world, but could not keep him. They lost him to a club Ferguson referred to as 'that mob'. He wouldn't sell them a virus, he had announced six months previously. And Ronaldo's transfer informs United's relationship with Real Madrid still. It is the reason talk of Nemanja Vidic's exit in the summer will not go away. There is now a club out there that is bigger than United, and that was never previously the case. United have lost players to Madrid before, but only on their terms. David Beckham's star had faded at Old Trafford when he moved to the Bernabeu; the same was true of Ruud van Nistelrooy. Indeed, it is hard to recall a major player United previously lost against the will of Ferguson (even if he regarded Ronaldo as a lost cause by the end and took the money). Throughout the previous two decades Ferguson resisted the major clubs in Italy when they moved for Ryan Giggs. Players such as Paul Ince and Jaap Stam departed for Serie A only because they had fallen from favour. This was different. This was something new: United the selling club. Whilethere are many arguments for Rooney to remain at Old Trafford, it canno longer be among them that Old Trafford is the only place to be. Notwhen Ronaldo, Kaka, Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta areconcentrated at two clubs in Spain. Not when Thierry Henry, ZlatanIbrahimovic and Karim Benzema are the support act. Once a blue: Rooney was vilified by the Everton faithful when he moved to United Taking nothing away from Rooney's achievements this season, putting four past Hull City pales by comparison to the personal challenge when Ronaldo and Messi go head to head. So while it may amount to nothing more than negotiating tactics, somebody is putting it about that Rooney and Spain are a match and that the player is stalling on contract talks. Losing him is unthinkable, but in the current climate Manchester United should know better than to presume loyalty in all circumstances. Remember, in a previous existence, Rooney the red was always going to be blue.   Fans giving World Cup the swerveThe Football Association have returned 6,000 of the 29,000 tickets allocated for the World Cup finals. Some will say that scare-mongering stories in the west, more than the recession, have caused this, so here are two final vignettes from a recent trip to Johannesburg. One Saturday night a few of us were discussing safety and I said I thought there was a degree of deception going on, PC journalists playing down risks from the secure comfort of five-star hotels. There had to be a reason guests were told to take taxis, even for journeys of a few hundred yards. Some disagreed. Brixton in south London was mentioned, as were some dubious areas around Yankee Stadium. Yet I was in Yankee Stadium and all over New York two months ago: nobody once told me I shouldn't walk. And I have friends in Brixton. I used to go out in Brixton. Brixton's all right. Best avoided: The towers of Sandton City appear high above the slums of Alexandra Township in Johannesburg We had a restaurant booked, quite literally around the corner from the hotel. If it's so safe, I said, let's walk. Everyone agreed. We exited the lobby and the chap from the hotel's courtesy shuttle service greeted us. He asked where we were going. Don't worry, we're walking, he was told. It was dark, he looked confused. 'No, I will help you,' he said. No need, we said. We know where this place is, up to the roundabout, turn left. 'No, take the bus,' he insisted. And eventually we did. And I won't say who caved first, but it wasn't me, and it wasn't somebody who shared my scepticism, either. Not everybody will be taking their own advice this summer. Anyway, two days later I was in a rush for the last flight out of Johannesburg. It was due to leave at 9.30 and the time was 7.45. I jumped in a taxi and explained the situation. We needed to hurry. Now, I know the route from my hotel in Sandton to OR Tambo airport. It goes like this: nice middle-class suburb, nice middle-class suburb, motorway, motorway, departures. Not this time. This time we went the short way, not the safe tourist route. Tourist free zone: Alexandra township Nice middle-class suburb, road I've never seen before, Jesus Christ will you look at that, police road block, motorway, airport. You see, there is a side of South Africa that is very easy for rich white folk to avoid, and it is a short-cut away. It is a shanty town land of shacks and extreme poverty and visitors skirt it without even knowing. We were fine; nothing happened. Just because people are poor it doesn't make them murderers. Yet my driver knew the road and had his foot down. Like the guides who organise favela tours in Brazil, he was on familiar terrain. They don't advise popping back to those places on your own. Yet that is what will happen at the World Cup because, on a law of averages, it has to. Tourists in hired vehicles will take a wrong turn and be out of place, at which point all consequence is random. English fans are still a more adventurous breed than the Germans, though, who have sold just 1,916 of 21,000 tickets. The Dutch have shifted 7,000 out of 22,000. If slow sales continue, FIFA should drop the prices and their profit expectations and fill the stadiums with cheap seats and locals: this should be their tournament, anyway. Unlike the tourists, they actually know when and where it is safe to walk. For the rest, it remains a guess.  AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT...            WHO won't doThe new owners of West Ham United will not be changing the name of the club to West Ham Olympic (not least because the fans would riot, and as an acronym it becomes WHO), but were they to fail in a proposed move to the London 2012 facility, a naming rights auction at the old place would not be the worst idea. Nobody knows where West Ham play anyway. Is it Upton Park? Is it the Boleyn Ground? Just don't make a deal with Iceland.  Attention was drawn this week to a report in a national newspaper that rape allegations against six players had severely affected the pre-season preparations of rugby league club Huddersfield Giants. The story was buried at the bottom of a page deep inside the sports section and petered out after four paragraphs; just as it would if a football club were involved. Can you imagine?   'Boot-licker': Gary Neville Gary Neville has been called many things, and some with justification, but a boot-licker he is not. How do we know? He always turned up for England. As a succession of Fabio Capello's predecessors will verify, it is not always easy getting Manchester United players to report for international duty. It is almost as if there is a dark force dragging them back to the club. Yet, each time, Neville arrived and was ready to play. He was his own man; so if he thinks Manchester United were right to let Carlos Tevez go, it will not be received wisdom.  Cup still full of thrillsAnother FA Cup weekend, another slew of commentaries about its loss of following and status. It is a pity nobody considers the matches. Once again, Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United produced an absolutely magnificent game, with twists and tension until the last minute. Indeed, compiling a list of the six most memorable matches of the season, two would be from the FA Cup. Not bad for a tournament that has only had 55 fixtures of significance so far, compared to the thousands played in the Premier League and in UEFA competitions. My six would be: Manchester City 4 Arsenal 2, Manchester United 4 Manchester City 3, Liverpool 1 Lyon 2, Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3, Manchester United 0 Leeds United 1 and Liverpool 1 Reading 2. As entertainment, the FA Cup continues to punch well above its weight.  To ensure that participation in club cricket passes from generation to generation, some Sunday teams exist under the loose umbrella of under 15s, over 35s. This enables fathers and sons to play together, ensuring loyalty and love for the sport. A fine idea but, as inspiration for selecting Arsenal's FA Cup team, no use at all, as Arsene Wenger discovered on Sunday.  Gareth Southgate was blamed for falling attendances at Middlesbrough and sacked. Now the club are 12th in the table with little chance of promotion and Saturday's crowd of 16,847 was the lowest for a league match at the Riverside. Using the same logic, therefore, it should have been Gordon Strachan's last game, too. And what happens if attendances continue to fall? Do Boro keep sacking managers until they find a populist choice? The supporters are important but they cannot be allowed to dictate policy. One would have thought a sensible man such as Steve Gibson, the chairman, would have understood that from the start.  Explore more:People:Ryan Giggs, Martin Samuel, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Carlos Tevez, Andres Iniesta, Karim Benzema, Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, Paul Ince, Fabio Capello, David Beckham, Gareth Southgate, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, Gordon StrachanPlaces:New York, London, Barcelona, Madrid, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom, Italy, Brazil, Europe, Upton Park


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