Why does Rooney want to leave Man Utd?

In Sir Alex Ferguson’s refreshingly honest press conference this afternoon the Manchester United boss admitted that Wayne Rooney had told him he wanted to leave the Old Trafford side. With the rumours now reality, one question remains – why does Rooney want to go?

The initial theory was that Rooney was simply the latest in a long line of United star players – following the likes of Roy Keane, David Beckham, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy – to fall out with the volatile manager. However Ferguson categorically denied a breakdown in his relationship with the England striker. “We’ve never had any argument, not a bit,” he said. “I think you have to understand the mechanics of these situations when people want to leave the club. It’s an easy one to say he’s fallen out with the manager.”

It has been mooted, too, that the recent revelations about Rooney’s private life could be behind his intent to quit Old Trafford. But it appears his marriage is safe, and wife Coleen reportedly has no desire to relocate from the North-West, as she wants to stay close to her adopted sister, Rosie. The 12-year-old suffers from the neurological disorder Rett Syndrome and recently suffered a stroke.

In any case, the tabloid allegations only surfaced in late September, and Ferguson today claimed he was informed in August that Rooney had no intention of signing a new contract. There was no battle to keep the story out of the papers; Rooney contemplated seeking a super-injunction to prevent the revelations, but decided against it after being advised it was unlikely to be granted given the extent to which his personal life had previously been in the press.

A move abroad – also contemplated over the summer by Ashley Cole, another player to feel the intense glare of the media spotlight – would not help. David Beckham’s move to Real Madrid showed that wherever the story goes, the tabloids will follow. Paparazzi is an Italian word for a reason; the incessant hounding of celebrities is hardly an English invention.

Another common reason for players seeking a move is that they are frustrated with their employer’s lack of ambition, and while that may seem a laughable conceit when discussing a club of Manchester United’s stature, these are very different times.

It seems entirely possible that Rooney, mindful of the staggering debt imposed by the Glazer family in their leveraged buyout of the club in 2005, £45m in annual interest payments and the failure to reinvest much of the £80m received for the transfer to Real Madrid of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, may see United as a club in decline. Recent results would appear to back up this notion but they can be attributed to Rooney’s form and a leaky defence as much as to the club’s financial situation.

If today’s revelations have been common knowledge among the squad for some time that, too, could explain United’s shaky start to the season; Rooney can hardly have been a positive influence in the dressing room in recent weeks. The club’s finances should not affect matters on the pitch to this extent and it is hard to imagine them weighing too heavily on the mind of a player who takes so much money out of the club in wages.

Ferguson claimed today that as recently as March of this year Rooney had told him that he wanted to stay at the club for the rest of his career. From a footballing perspective the only thing that has changed since was United’s failure to retain the Premier League title, and it would be laughable to suggest Rooney has become disenchanted with life at the club simply because they could not become the first team to ever win four league titles in a row.

But the player has clearly had his head turned, and the modern football fan knows only too well that there are only two things capable of turning an English footballer’s head: women, and money. We can assume Rooney has learned his lesson when it comes to the former, so it is at this point that we must mention the elephant in the room. Manchester City.

That Rooney was reportedly offered, and has turned down, a pay rise of £60,000 a week, taking his basic salary to £8m a year, set alarm bells ringing and it now appears increasingly apparent that United’s fierce local rivals have made the England ace an offer he is struggling to refuse.

It has to be City. Chelsea’s spending has been drastically reigned in by Roman Abramovich as he seeks to fulfil his pledge to make the club financially self-sufficient. Barcelona have financial problems of their own, have no real need for Rooney since the summer signing of David Villa, and coach Pep Guardiola will have no desire to take on another big ego after the failure of the Ibrahimovic experiment. The only other club with the financial muscle to offer Rooney the wages he doubtless feels he deserves are Real Madrid, and general manager Jorge Valdano moved quickly yesterday to say the club had no room, or need, for Rooney. In fact the only club to stay silent on the matter has thus far been Manchester City, whose chief executive Gary Cook hardly has a history of keeping his mouth shut.

United fans may hope Rooney would not dare do something so inflammatory as follow Carlos Tevez across the city to join up with their ambitious noisy neighbours, but it would be naive in the extreme to expect loyalty from a player who left his boyhood club, libelled his former manager in an autobiography, and kissed the Manchester United badge on a visit to Goodison Park in 2008.

Steven Gerrard and John Terry pulled out of moves to Chelsea and Manchester City respectively at the eleventh hour, out of a sense of loyalty to the clubs that had played such important parts in their development. Rooney’s ties to United are limited to the six years he has spent at Old Trafford, but like Gerrard and Terry, he is now faced with the most important decision of his career to date.

Until recently Rooney has enjoyed status as English football’s golden boy, its brightest talent and most marketable star. How that star appears to be falling. Should he really make such a controversial move across town, for the most deplorable of reasons, he must face up to the reality that the abuse he would receive at grounds up and down the country will dwarf the treatment currently doled out to national pet hates John Terry and Ashley Cole.

The next few months will reveal what kind of man Wayne Rooney is and will define not only the way he is treated for the rest of his career, but the way he is remembered. Football, they say, is a short career, but legacies endure. How Rooney handles the coming weeks may have implications far beyond his bank balance.

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