Rooney new contract: A costly mistake
It leaves me feeling angry and confused that the proud nation of France is so often cruelly stereotyped as too willing to cave in to strong willed aggressive personalities with unreasonable demands. Context be damned as judgments are laid down condemning the ease with which Robespierre, Kaiser Wilhelm, et al imposed their will on the Gallic populace. How sad then that my pod-brother Frenchy has backed Manchester United to act in just such a fashion. How can such a talented young football writer possibly support signing up to five more years of the Rooney Stretford circus? He’s wrong. Here is why.
When renewing a contract or considering a salary increase it is entirely rational to make this judgement based on performance. Wayne Rooney fails any such test. Last season was his most disappointing at the club. He spent a large part of what was a successful campaign for the club out of condition, off form, or in a sulk about his relationship with the boss. Remarkably he still posted enviable stats – double figures for goals and assists – yet to those who watched Rooney in action nothing will convince that he deserved to be the highest paid footballer at the club. Heavy touch, poor conditioning and petulance directed at team mates were common features of Rooney’s game. van Persie’s arrival served to underline just how low our expectations had fallen in terms of attitude, professionalism and performance to label our number 10 a world class player. We were amazed to see such reliable, optimum quality without any soap opera.
For the first third of this season Rooney’s level undoubtedly improved and he gave a timely reminder for those like me who had forgotten the joy of Rooney the focused footballer. For many it has been the saving grace of David Moyes tenure that Rooney has rediscovered some of his old killer instinct. To believe some in the media and ‘official Man Utd PR’ you would assume he was the sole player performing post-Fergie whilst those around him declined. Yet great players surely lift those around them – performing well individually in an average team is more Matthew Le Tissier than Cristiano Ronaldo. Remarkably it was often an eighteen year old newcomer who became the go to guy when times are tough. The team has stuttered badly and is in need of a rethink. To sign him on for another five years is a declaration that Rooney will be at the centre of the rebuilding process; I’m not convinced that is wise.
For most of 2013 we were reliably informed he wanted out. Beyond the ego stroking it is hard to see what has changed – other than the club being willing to buy his ‘loyalty.’ It might seem like all is well with Rooney at the moment but history tells us he is liable to perceive some slight against him over the next five years which is enough to question his future at the club. It has already happened twice during a period of huge success; what possible confidence can we have that in the cursed ‘transition period’ he won’t again decide the grass is greener elsewhere?
Notably Rooney’s fine vein of form was brought to an end yet again by injury. Even when the mind is willing, physically the body cannot sustain the rigours of intense sporting endeavour over a considerable length of time. This season both of our top level strikers endured significant spells on the sidelines but the difference has been their effectiveness on returning to action. Whereas both have been rusty, van Persie has still scored goals. Rooney is taking his usual handful of games to be better than a passenger with the occasional moment of quality. Past lifestyle choices and the rigours of a decade of top level football have taken their toll; it would be folly to presume we will benefit from another five of his best years. As highest earner and maybe even captain Rooney would be placed on a pedestal he simply does not deserve.
If United don’t agree to the stratospheric demands of Rooney then the likelihood is he will leave either in the summer for a fee or a year later for nothing. The argument goes that the symbolism of allowing Rooney to leave would be damaging and suggest a club on the wane. I feel the opposite – moving on an at times brilliant but frequently underwhelming player in decline would be mutually beneficial. It would allow Rooney the fresh start he has indicated he needs but more importantly open the door for others to stake a claim to be the creative fulcrum of our next side. We already have the finest number 10 in the league (currently shunted out wide), a potential superstar in Januzaj and in Kagawa a young player on the brink of being sold without being given a consistent run in his specialist role. New tactical flexibility could be embraced as no longer must the manager (whomever that might be) worry about tantrums from the golden boy at being played in a role he doesn’t like. Unless there are major concerns about van Persie’s future I don’t subscribe to the Marcotti endorsed view of needing Rooney as an alternative striker. A true statement that times have changed and a new era has begun would be a parting of ways. Chelsea equipped with Rooney might be damaging in the short term but in the long run I think we would benefit from embracing change. If we had sold Rooney for a large sum in the summer the worst case scenario was seen as Chelsea challenging for the title and United out of contention. Thank goodness we avoided that eh?
Off the field; Wayne Rooney is a global symbol of our club. Throughout the football loving world he is recognised and adored in a way that high performing teammates like Carrick and Vidic are not. The logic goes that to lose him is to alienate our overseas fan base yet the reaction to the Mata signing and breakthrough of Januzaj is evidence that Rooney is beloved due to the club he represents, not the other way round. If by refusing to offer a lucrative new deal we lose Rooney we can and have acquired players capable of being the global ‘face’ of brand United.
I was in two minds as to whether to include my final reason. It threatens to contaminate my judgment in terms of balance and critical analysis but it’d be deceitful not to be honest: I don’t like Wayne Rooney.
I resent how freely he showed a lack of respect our club and fans in the manner he sought to force a move to richer neighbours. I resent the fact our current leadership have ejaculated excessive praise over him in a charm(less) offensive that wreaks of desperation. I resent the fact that a work ethic that was once the bare minimum expected of a professional is now lauded as a special quality. I have celebrated his goals as they benefit my team but I’d he lying if I denied any emotional motivation in opposing the award of an obscene amount of money, over an absurdly long period of time for fear of appearing ‘weak.’ True strength would be thanking him for the good times, selling him for the highest attainable fee and moving on. It is a worrying sign that the power brokers at the club plainly lack such strength. Reactivity has become our default strategy – sometimes it pays off (Mata), sometimes less so (Fellaini), let’s hope I’m wrong and this latest move pays off. It certainly will for Paul Stretford’s bank account.