Manchester United supporters have learnt a tough lesson this week. The fact that footballers are mercenaries may be common knowledge amongst fans of most clubs, but Manchester United, by virtue of their sheer scale, have been largely insulated from this. They have been able to hang on to the likes of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs for years and years, and have been afford one major luxury that is denied to almost every other club – they sell, by and large, only when they need to sell and they feel that a player is surplus to requirements. Comments to the effect that they are not matching the ambitions of a player (a deliberately ambiguous statement – “not matching ambitions” can quite easily be extended in its interpretation to “not doubling my wages”) are not something that they are used to.
This, however, is the world of most football supporters. Manchester United, one of the clubs that has on so many occasions in the past been the poacher, almost became the gamekeeper this week, and there can be little doubt that Wayne Rooney treated the supporters of the club with absolute contempt in his behaviour this week. Whether they will welcome him back into the fold (and the early signs seem to be that their loyalty has been stretched to breaking point) at all, never mind with open arms, remains to be seen. It was being reported on Twitter at lunchtime by reasonably reliable sources that he has already apologised to the players and the manager. There was no mention of apologising to the supporters, though. We will have to wait and see whether he does this (and, just as interestingly, whether they accept it). Even so, while Wayne Rooney may have signed a five year contract with Manchester United, it remains unlikely that he will stay with the club for five years.
No matter what may happen in the next couple of weeks, the longer term picture that Manchester United supporters may wish to consider is whether he will be at the club by the end of next summer. In some respects, this resolution is the best of both worlds for both player and club. On the one hand, Manchester United no longer have to worry about their most instantly recognisable player disappearing to Manchester City for a pittance because he has no time left to run on his contract and Wayne Rooney gets the doubling of his wage that the doubtless feels entitled to (although whether he should be entitled to it or not is a subtly different question) without having to leave the club. On the other, however, Manchester United look as if they have been played like banjos and any reasonable doubt over whether money or Manchester United is more important to Rooney has been removed for good. Both sides of this divide will benefit from this outcome, but both will pay a price as well.
Manchester United supporters looking for crumbs of comfort are likely to find them difficult to come by. True enough, they have got one over on Manchester City (something which will add even more tension to a Manchester derby match that, to be frank, doesn’t need any more bile added to it) and they have held onto the player. However, many supporters may have burnt their bridges with him and others could be called out as hypocrites if they start cheering for him again. There is also the question of his form – he hasn’t hardly played a decent ninety minutes since returning from the injury that he sustained against Bayern Munich last season and the question remains over whether Manchester United could now be paying £180,000 per week for a player who is already past his best. It’s up to him to prove his critics wrong, but those critics have other lines of fire against Rooney now, even should his form pick up.
What have we learned from this particular debacle, though? Well, either Wayne Rooney was lying when he talked about “ambition” or his ambition has a price – that price being £800,000 per month. Meanwhile, Manchester United have learned that the days of player power are still far from reaching their zenith. In a buyers market, there is still no guarantee of what amount they would get if they were to sell him next summer – all that we know for certain is that they would now be highly likely to get considerably more money for him were they to sell him than they would have done had he not signed a new contract. This doesn’t mean that there are any guarantees over his sale, and the truth of the matter remains that neither Manchester United or Wayne Rooney come out of this story smelling of roses. The suspicion remains that this story still has some mileage in it yet.