It was early 2013, not long after the clubs had been drawn together in the Champions League, that officials from Manchester United informally sounded Real Madrid out about an idea.
If Cristiano Ronaldo was “sad” — as he had publicly said — the Old Trafford club could solve that issue by taking him back to England in exchange for cash... and Wayne Rooney.
Real, though, rejected the proposal. They just weren’t really interested in Rooney.
Acceptance might well have saved everyone an awful lot of bother — not least David Moyes.
The new United manager now starts an awfully big job with an awfully big decision: what to do with Rooney? What’s more, he’ll have to be quite diplomatic about it.
Because, the last time that Moyes and the player enjoyed a professional relationship, it ended with a — shall we say — miscommunication: the then Everton manager sued over comments made in Rooney’s 2006 autobiography. Although it was settled out of court and an apology was accepted, it is somewhat symmetrical that the relationship has resumed with even more mixed messages.
How else to explain the curious sequence of news stories that have involved the 27-year-old over the past few months?
Consider the following: back in March, after Rooney had been dropped for that crunch Champions League second leg against Real, it was widely reported that United finally wanted rid of the number-10. Just a few days later, though, Alex Ferguson issued a supposedly stern denial which conspicuously mirrored what he said about David Beckham in April 2003.
In April 2013, then, the Manchester media were briefed that Rooney wanted a new contract to stay at the club. Until, just two days later, it was confirmed the forward had indeed put in a transfer request which was rejected. United, meanwhile, officially stated that “Wayne Rooney is not for sale” as Chelsea hovered.
Yet, while all this was happening, sources from Paris Saint-German to Madrid to Munich have been talking about how both club and player are still separately pushing a transfer.
Something here doesn’t add up — except, ironically, the reality that Rooney’s exit would suit all parties.
We’ve reached something of a breaking point. Virtually all sources indicate that, while Ferguson and the club have become increasingly disillusioned with the player, Rooney himself has grown disenchanted with life at United. One thing is true: the forward does need a “fresh challenge”. Things have just gone stale.
Those within Old Trafford talk about how the unmistakable bounce in his step is now gone. Those in the stands, meanwhile, only have to look at the body language, the hunched shoulders. This isn’t the player that used to revel in these surroundings.
Not unsurprisingly, the root of many of the current problems go back to the last time Rooney definitely wanted away — October 2010; but not quite for the reasons many perceive.
Far from calculatingly waiting to replace the Englishman with a forward of Robin van Persie’s calibre once opportunity knocked, Ferguson was reportedly optimistic that Rooney would be energised by the number-20’s arrival and combine with him to enhance the side as a whole. Instead, the United boss felt “the opposite” happened. In Van Persie’s first game — a 1-0 defeat to Everton, coincidentally — Rooney produced a notably laboured performance that had Fergie “fuming”.
One of a number of fractious exchanges soon followed, where the Scot brought up his belief that Rooney always seems to return from international tournaments in poor form.
Since then, their relationship has declined. So has interest from the likes of Real and Bayern.
The Spanish club’s rejection of the Ronaldo proposal is a long way from the days when Bernabeu president Florentino Perez was reported to be “obsessed” with Rooney and probably says a lot about the trajectory of the Englishman’s career.
With United now desperately looking to make a deal for Ronaldo happen, it is interesting how the perceptions of the two former teammates have inverted.
Back when the Portuguese forward was starting to prolifically score at Old Trafford, but also self-indulgently pout, Rooney was seen as the selfless professional sacrificing his own game for the betterment of the team. Now, with Ronaldo simply refusing to accept that Leo Messi is the best in the world and admirably working so hard to maximise his talent, the argument persists that Rooney hasn’t quite made the most of his own ability.
Yes, he’s won a lot, but never quite with the individual wonder that he displayed at Euro 2004 or in his first games for Everton.
They, of course, were under Moyes.
When he next meets Rooney, his words are going to be of the utmost interest.
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