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Monday, 25 October 2010

What a Week in Wayne's World

Will Pearson

The road to redemption is long and one beset with perilous pitfalls; for Wayne Rooney deliverance lies at the end of a particularly winding and thorny thoroughfare.
A great deal of water passed under several bridges during the course of an extraordinary week in football, the events of which breathed life into a saga of epic proportion.  In the seven days people of Britain will also remember for fiscal restraints instated by the coalition, Rooney positively disregarded his own purse-string altogether. 
In what was an astounding display of self-interest the Liverpudlian somehow ended the week not, as was widely expected, with an impending exit strategy from Manchester United, but as custodian to a new five-year contract believed to be worth around fifty million pounds.
It was a conclusion which appeared an unlikely proposition just days earlier.
When a downcast Sir Alex Ferguson descended from his Old Trafford stage shortly after 2pm last Tuesday, the frank and honest content of his stunning press conference appeared to confirm what had previously been labelled by United fans as tabloid conjecture: Wayne Rooney wanted away.  Ferguson spoke candidly about his “shock” and “disappointment” and what he perceived to be an ultimate “betrayal” by his star striker.
The situation was exacerbated further the next day when – just an hour before his team were due to kick-off against Bursaspor – Rooney released his own carefully constructed response to the previous day’s revelations.  He bemoaned the future spending power of the Reds and questioned the team’s ability to continue to win trophies; indirectly, he put his colleagues, his manager, the club and its fans to the sword in what was a merciless and scathing riposte.
At this point, Rooney’s position at the club looked untenable, his bridges all but left in embers.
Yet less than forty-eight hours later a smiling Rooney and Ferguson were pictured together, a new agreement reached to maintain the forward’s position as a United employee.  Newspapers everywhere elected the phrase “astonishing U-turn” synonymous with the denouement of the saga, bar The Guardian which preferred “about-turn”.  Whatever you call it, this was undoubtedly an incredible change of heart, one which left the world to pick over Rooney – and his agent Paul Stretford’s – motives.
A multitude of explanations for the ordeal have been purported, but the fact is we will probably never know the story in its sordid entirety.  One conspiracy theory suggests the expensive contract is merely an effort by United to fetch a higher asking price when the club sell him on in January or the summer.  The most popular assertion is that the whole affair was nothing more than a prolonged ploy of negotiation, engineered by Rooney’s agent to affect a bumper pay-day.
The matter elicited hostile receptions across the football world, none more vociferous than that of Blackpool manager, Ian Holloway, who said: “I've got big problems with the people running football. They are so wrong it's frightening”.  He seethed at the way Rooney and Stretford had attempted to “manufacture” an exit from the club which had developed the player into a world-beating forward.
The truth is that no one emerged from the week’s exchanges with much credibility – not Rooney, not football, and in some ways, not United or Ferguson.
The prodigious Scotsman has always prided himself on never allowing a player to become bigger than the club, on knowing when to let go.  The list of evictees is extensive, from David Beckham to Roy Keane, from Eric Cantona to Ruud van Nistelrooy.  This time, though, was different.  Ferguson knew that losing Wayne Rooney – especially given the number 10’s published concerns over the club’s future – was not an option.
It was a selfless move from Ferguson, who from the offset handled the commotion beautifully: personally he perhaps lost face – appearing bullied and pushed around by player and agent as never before; yet the other alternative – which for so long looked a certainty – was not worth contemplating.  If Rooney had been allowed to escape – perhaps unthinkably to Manchester City – while doubting the club’s stature, decreeing United as a falling star, then it would have been the club’s reputation that would have taken a battering.
Perhaps – for the first time in many years – people would have begun to contemplate the beginning of the end for United’s era as world-conquering dominators.   
And what of the outcome for Rooney?  You could say that things have worked out superbly after he secured a contract which doubled his previous earnings while broadcasting his powers of negotiation; but how much has it cost the former-Evertonian in personal terms?
Without doubt he faces an uphill battle to regain the trust and love of the Old Trafford faithful who feel bitterly hurt by Rooney’s supposed philanderings with arch-rivals City.  Furious United fans held banners aloft at Wednesday’s European game, one alluding to the striker’s recent marital strife: “Coleen forgave you.  We won’t”.  The tension culminated on Thursday night when an angry, balaclava-adorned mob congregated outside his Prestbury mansion; perhaps Rooney at this point actually began to fear for his own safety if he pursued a move across town to Eastlands.
In the end, this theory wasn’t tested as Rooney put pen to paper on Friday.  After securing the deal he was possibly seeking all along, Rooney afforded himself a satisfied smile.  This was the man as we have never seen him before: not the old-fashioned footballer of yore, but Rooney the business man. 
For so long it seemed like a negotiating tactic that had over-stepped the mark, but it eventually came good for Camp Rooney. 
Many others, though, have described it as simply a victory for greed, and at a time when the country struggles to regain its financial feet after recession. 
What a crazy week, and what a difference seven days makes: a story that began with Rooney warming the Old Trafford bench against West Brom – his mind racing with uncertainties over the brewing storm – ended with a balmy birthday break in Dubai as his team-mates put the saga aside to card their first away win of the season in his absence.  
While the celebratory piña coladas probably tasted like a million bucks, Wayne Rooney surely knows he has more than a 3,500 mile journey back from the Middle East to return to the heart of Manchester       

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