THERE'S been much talk this week on Wayne Rooney's bust-up with Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. It's no real surprise.
Step back far enough and it becomes a matter of replacing the grumbling, too-big-for-his boots Englishman with any number of past Old Trafford stars.
He's often seen as the pinnacle of British football management but there's just as many questions about the wily Scot as there are answers.
There’s no doubt his hardline stance has preserved an integrity throughout the club over the years but have the numerous soured relationships with key players been completely the fault of a those inviduals’ inflated egos and an increasing disrespect for a man they once held up as a father figure?
From as far back as Jim Leighton, Ferguson has refused to sugar-coat big decisions on big names. No one, it rightfully seems, means more than the collective whole of the Red Devils.
But it’s somewhat peculiar that close bonds with kids, who would grow into men under his guardianship, can be fluffed out in the space of a few awkward months.
For 12 and a half years Roy Keane patrolled the United engine room with a sneer. Arrogant, aggressive and trusted whole-heartedly by Ferguson. He was always outspoken, forever worthy of a headline, but Fergie accepted that from Keane. It was all part and parcel of the fiery Irishman’s appeal.
However, in November of 2005, Keane had his contract torn up after a prolonged row that started over the set-up of a Portuguese training camp. Aiming verbal volleys at team-mates, Ferguson took action and “by mutual consent” an entire era ended in the blink of an eye.
Before him, Jaap Stam had been afforded an even swifter exit from the club. In his book “Head to Head”, Stam alleged Ferguson had tapped him up while still at Ajax.
Despite being an integral part of the Champions League-winning squad and a key player in the first 11, the Dutchman was bounced out of the club within days of its release for £16.5million to Lazio.
The most notorious breakdown in a once glowing relationship is with David Beckham. The ins-and-outs have been dissected a million times over but the reality still stings for the Old Trafford faithful – the blistering reception afforded to the England star during AC Milan’s visit to the Theatre of Dreams was clear proof of that.
Rewind to just over 18 months ago and you’ll spot the rattles and dummies being tossed from prams as Cristiano Ronaldo engineered a move to Real Madrid. Sulking and moaning may come natural to the gelled-tumbler but there was still something lurking beneath the idea he was an erratic, irrational, money-grabber.
Rooney’s the next name on the list – it’s clear what’s inspired the recent rift – and while he certainly won’t be the last player to get on the wrong side of the sour-faced gaffer, he’s caught between a rock and the proverbial hard place.
Reports that Real Madrid and Barcelona are preparing big-money offers for the 24-year-old are nothing more than drummed-up hysteria from lazy media sources who have failed to even consider the reality. You also have to take into account that every one of the superstars who jumped overboard were hopping into a big-money deal. Rooney doesn’t have that option – in fact there’s nothing on the table.
For a start, Barca simply can’t afford to outlay the money expected to sign Rooney. If their recently revealed financial problems had stretched to cover the arrival of Cesc Fabregas – which they didn’t and couldn’t – they’d have a squad happy to live without comings and goings for the next half a decade. He was priced at roughly £40million. Rooney, on guesstimate, is double that. It’s a no-goer.
They also don’t want nor need Rooney. A player who has struggled with form or injuries (currently both) for well over two years, who carries the baggage of a frenzied English press, who has repeatedly shown disloyalty off the park and who would demand a starting spot in an attack that already features perfectly suited stars like David Villa, Lionel Messi and Pedro.
Blaugrauna fans have also met rumours with a giant shrug. He’s simply not that highly rated in Spain. Rooney doesn’t speak Spanish, or Catalan, and it would surprise me if it was in a player who once claimed he was too hom sick to make a move to London, to do so.
Real Madrid have previously been the get out of jail card for United’s exiles. The black cab round the back of Old Trafford with the cheque book open and a gurning leather-faced president beckoning the hard-done-by star into the loving arms of a Spanish retreat. Not anymore.
With the bitter battle to recruit Ronaldo over, the history of a loveless affair between the two giants finally came crashing in on itself. Around £80million may have changed hands but they were negotiations conducted through gritted teeth.
Ferguson once asserted he wouldn’t “sell them a virus” but the bravado couldn’t match the necessity. Jose Mourinho has already gone on record to reveal he’s in no mood for new business even if he does like Rooney. Prime wheeler and dealer, director Jorge Valdano, has echoed those sentiments.
AC Milan emptied their pockets and bared their bum to grab Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic just before deadline day. Inter don’t do silly money.
That leaves Russia or Germany. Bayern Munich to be specific. They have the funds but their transactions and dealings are rarely exorbitant. True, they have Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and Mario Gomez down as some pretty hefty movers but despite being in the market for a much-needed left-back and right-back over the summer, they refused to pay over the odds for Gregory Van der Wiel insisting “we’ll come back next year”. They’re too patient and careful to splash out on Rooney. Russia’s barely even worth considering.
If Rooney really is to leave Manchester United behind, his only likely destination is within walking distance. Manchester City will come sniffing. But he’s not needed, he’ll cost too much and he’s most likely not worth the bother.
That is, of course, unless Sir Alex relents and paints the whole thing as one big misunderstanding.