It’s hard to imagine more startling news in the football world than Rooney demanding to leave United. In one day Liverpool and their troubles, both on and off pitch, have been relegated to the back pages. Details are unclear but it seems that the Rooney/Ferguson relationship has deteriorated to the point that Old Trafford just isn’t big enough for the two of them. This is a situation we’ve seen a fair few times before with Ferguson. Beckham, Keane, Stam and Schmeichel have all fallen foul of the fiery Scot. Only Schmeichel managed to stay at the club, after having to offer an unreserved apology to Ferguson.
The key issue for Manchester United is the long term stability of the club. The most common phrase heard when among United fans is “No player is bigger than the club” (apart from “My Gawd, isn’t the M1 traffic going to be awful on Saturday?”). United have been the dominant side in English football since the creation of the Premier League and the success has carried on despite losing Robson, Keane, Cantona and Beckham as well as other big names along the way. However with each departure the Manchester faithful have had the assurance that Ferguson will go on and rebuild. This time, at best it is hard to imagine him going for much more than two or three years. Rooney on the other hand could continue for a good six or seven years at the top level. This is potentially the first time that the star has clashed with the manager and could serve the club best in the long run.
However if the reports are true that Rooney has essentially challenged the club to choose between him and Ferguson the board has only one logical choice. It would be a sucker-punch to lose Rooney but the alternative is to become Real Madrid in the early 00’s. Raul in particular was as powerful as any manager during that era including World Cup and multiple Champions League winner Vincente del Bosque. If Rooney were to successfully face down Ferguson and survive what possible chance does any incoming manager have of dealing with player power?
Secondly there is the possibility that Rooney isn’t going to recover from this slump. In the past few months Rooney has publically urinated, cheated on his pregnant wife, played terribly and then contradicted his manager after he tried to protect him. These could be seen as the signs of a young man struggling with life and lashing out at those around him.
It would be genuinely tragic if Rooney fails to recover the form of 34 club goals last season. However he has emphatically gone off the rails in the last few months in a way reminiscent of (cliché alert) Gascoigne. Rooney might just have reached his peak value for United last season. Cashing in while the memory of his ability for the club is fresh might be the logical move. Above all the Glazers cannot afford to value the commercial appeal of Wayne Rooney above that of Alex Ferguson.