At no time has their view wavered. In the last month, the same message has been coming out of the Old Trafford: he wants to go to Chelsea and they want him. United, however, are reluctant to sell to a domestic rival.
Rooney, 27, is a popular member of the United dressing-room. He’s viewed as a good lad, a joker, a top player and a good person to have around. Except he’s changed. There’s been nothing serious. After Christmas, the coaches felt he was coming to terms with not being the main man at Old Trafford after the arrival of Robin van Persie.
That wasn’t a slur against Rooney, more a statement of what was solidifying into fact.
That was January. Since March, his team-mates have felt he hasn’t been himself, not since he didn’t start in United’s biggest game of the season at home to Real Madrid.
Rooney was furious, wouldn’t you be in his position? But that’s football. When Alex Ferguson said he’d asked for a transfer that was disputed by Rooney who became even more unhappy.
There are knee-jerk reactions aplenty over Rooney at present. Most United fans want him gone and suddenly he’s gone from being ‘the White Pele’ to being a ‘Scouse B******’.
Fans feel betrayed, but not all. Some would rather see him wearing red than playing against the red of United because they know how good a player he is.
But there’s a feeling, too, that his best days are behind him, that he hasn’t improved like his Cristiano Ronaldo because he doesn’t have the same pursuit of excellence.
Yet he earns more money than the Real Madrid superstar. He also earns more than any other United player as a result of the contract negotiated after the 2010 announcement when he questioned United’s ambition.
Then, Rooney’s stock was at its highest and United were frightened of losing him. Not now. He’s a very good player, but does he justify his status as United’s best paid player, especially if he wants to leave? Not that he’ll say he wants to leave, so you’re left with two groups briefing against each other. Rooney was said to be angry and confused on Tuesday. That, then, would mirror how most United fans felt in October 2010 when he slagged off the club
If he goes as expected, there will be anger and potential recrimination when he returns to Old Trafford, the level of which depends on how he speaks of United in the media and how United speak of him. Paul Ince didn’t recover in the eyes of United’s fans after a character assassination by Ferguson. At the very least, Ince has his side of the story which is different to the line United fans bought off a manager they adored.
Rooney has been far more influential for United than Ince. He’s one of the greatest players in the club’s history, with 197 goals in 402 appearances. He’s fourth in United’s all-time leading goalscorers’ chart ahead of George Best, Denis Viollet, Ryan Giggs and Ruud Van Nistelrooy and only behind Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Jack Rowley. He’s won the European Cup, he’s won league titles, he’s matured from an estate kid who was shy in front of the cameras to someone who can come across well in interviews.
But, unlike United greats such as Giggs, Beckham, Scholes and Neville who were happy to trust the club when it came to new contracts, Rooney’s advisor Paul Stretford has always pushed for more.
Beckham’s father once told a story of how he got in a cab with his then teenage son after signing a new deal feeling guilty because he was going to be paid so much. No danger of that with Rooney. It’s all about maximising his value. Stretford pushed for the best deal for his client at all times. Other agents will say he did right, but it created an edge between the club and Rooney’s media-savvy, advisors who didn’t always brief the same message. At the heart of it, United wanted a player who wanted to play for the club like the aforementioned players. Yet they were United fans, Rooney is an Evertonian.
It’s understood Rooney’s advisors wanted to talk about a new deal, but why should United talk about a new deal when his current one has two years left to run? Why should United talk when his star was falling? Chelsea want to catch it, but United would rather it was another club.