It is impossible to look at the events of the last two weeks at Manchester United without a certain degree of confusion. The extraordinary public show of dissent from Wayne Rooney towards his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was both captivating and infuriating at the same time. Indeed, Ian Holloway, the manager of Blackpool, was scathing in his criticism of Rooney.
He said in a press conference during the saga: “What if he sits there for 18 months, throws tantrums, doesn’t try, doesn’t play, and someone’s already said to him, ‘We’ll take you and we’ll pay you some of that money we should have paid Manchester United because you can walk out on a free’? Do you want to sign a person like that? Do you want to play for a club that says that to you? How do we know it hasn’t already happened? The game is wrong.”
He even went on to add that Sir Alex was being “bullied”. For someone as powerful, respected, and ruthless as Ferguson, that is quite something to suggest.
But all things considered, it is true. The balance of power in the modern game has shifted so significantly that it is the players who can almost exert complete control over their managers – something satirised excellently in this paper’s Sport Distort column. It was Ronaldo who managed to orchestrate his departure from United, it was Gallas who allegedly threatened to score an own goal if forced to remain in a Chelsea shirt, and it is Rooney who so publicly embarrassed his manager in the press over the last few weeks. Quite simply, it is disgraceful.
The matter is made even worse if you consider the size and stature of Manchester United as a club, and remember the old adage that “no player is bigger than the club”. That has been completely disproved by the Rooney saga, as Ferguson and the club realised they would simply not be able to cope without him. While players such as Obertan, Macheda and in particular Hernandez are very talented, they still need to develop in order to perform consistently at the very highest level.
While United have lost many star talents in the past – mostly due to falling out with Ferguson – there is a key difference this time around. As pointed out by Matt Lawton of the Daily Mail: “When Ince was sold on for growing rather too big for his boots, Ferguson already had Keane. When Beckham dared stand up to him, a certain Cristiano Ronaldo had already been lined up to wear the No 7 shirt. By the time Van Nistelrooy had been moved on to Real Madrid, Rooney had emerged.” Who would have been ready to fill the void left by a Rooney departure now?
That is exactly why United were prepared to throw money at him to stay, and the player – or perhaps the agent – was fully aware of that. Bridges have been burned with the team’s loyal supporters, who made a point at the recent fixture against Stoke City of chanting the names of former legends of the club. Even Cristiano Ronaldo’s name was sung – anyone except Wayne Rooney. He wasn’t booed, just ignored. That will be the case until he gains form again – and all memory of this saga will most probably be swept away, such is the nature of the modern game. As ever, it is Holloway who sums the situation up best. “[UEFA and FIFA] say it’s not fair on the player. Rubbish. The player has had his wages every week. They bought him, they worked with him, he belongs to them. It’s so obvious. The world should change if it’s wrong and football should look at itself.”