Rooney gives Fergie much to ponder
Sir Alex Ferguson has been set another of those managerial examinations he has proved so good at down the years as he tries to work out what to do with Wayne Rooney.
Although United's response to speculation that the 24-year-old striker was going to be sold in January was to label it "nonsense", it appears there is rather more substance to the stories than the Old Trafford faithful would want.
Rooney appeared to make a direct challenge to Ferguson's authority on Tuesday after England's Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro, when he went out of his way to contradict the Scot's claim that he has been suffering from an ankle injury. And it is understood Red Devils officials have been informed Rooney will not sign a new contract following the breakdown in negotiations over a new one, to replace his existing deal, which is due to end in the summer of 2012.
It leaves Ferguson with a dilemma. He does have the option of playing hardball with Rooney and keeping the former Everton star at Old Trafford, in the hope he changes his mind.
The alternative would be to sell, most likely in January as his value would plummet next summer when he would be six months away from being able to sign pre-contract agreements with clubs on the continent, and 12 months off leaving for nothing.
That would appear to be an unpalatable position for the Glazer family to adopt, giving greater credence to the belief a buyer for Rooney will be found within the next couple of months.
It leaves Ferguson to not only identify a successor - Fernando Torres' name has been mentioned even if that move from Liverpool would seem very dubious - but decide what to do with Rooney in the interim.
Ferguson has so far avoided any meaningful public discussion about Rooney's situation but appeared to deliver his own verdict when he left the forward out of his starting line-up for Saturday's Premier League encounter with West Brom, then brought him on as a substitute with 19 minutes remaining and told him to play on the left wing.
Next up are Turkish champions Bursaspor in the Champions League at Old Trafford on Wednesday, when Rooney would ordinarily be looking at scoring his first goal in open play for United this season.
This can no longer be guaranteed given his relationship with Ferguson is now badly fractured as a result of the revelations about his private life, to which the United boss has not taken too kindly. Ferguson does have Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez and Michael Owen - who missed Saturday's game with a calf injury - to call upon, but having kept his counsel on Rooney since the player's declaration at Wembley last week, his next move is awaited with interest.
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