It’s been interesting to view the reaction among United fans to the news that Wayne Rooney has, as expected, signed a new contract worth an estimated £300,000 a week. While some are understandably pleased that a player who has unquestionably been our oustanding performer this season has put pen to paper, others have baulked at the amount we’re paying a man who, not once but twice, has made his willingness to leave the club should he not get what he wanted absolutely clear.
I’m somewhere between the two positions. As he makes his inevitable progress towards Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for United, I find it hard to celebrate the feat. Wayne Rooney is not one of those players, like Charlton, or like Giggs, Scholes or Gary Neville for that matter, whose name will forever be inextricably linked with the club. You suspect he will be remembered as Wayne Rooney, who happened to play for Manchester United and you suspect that’s the way he sees it also. He’s as pure an example of the modern day mercernary footballer as you’ll find anywhere. True, he gives everything when on the pitch, but then so did Carlos Tevez.
The size of the wage packet also inevitably gets objected to but, to be honest, footballers’ wages have become so ridiculous that it’s hard to make a special case here. Adnan Januzaj is on thirty grand a week as an eighteen year old: if I’d have earned that kind of money at his age, I probably wouldn’t have made it past twenty-five. He’s a very level headed lad, and he needs to be, but the position such individuals find themselves in isn’t one that makes an awful lot of sense in the real world, and it’s wrong to single Rooney out on that point alone.
I ask myself, in any case, what the options were. Had we not sorted out his contract he’d have been in a strong position to move on in the summer for a greatly reduced transfer fee, and it’s hard to imagine potential suitors like Chelsea having a problem with his wage demands. We are, frankly, not well off for proven top class talent at the moment, and certainly can’t afford to lose what we have to other Premiership clubs, and Rooney and his agent are both well aware of that.
It’s hard to imagine Fergie having a gun held to his head like that, of course, and much easier to assume that Rooney would have gone last summer had his old boss still held the reins. But Moyes is not Fergie; and we shouldn’t blame him for that, because nobody is. SAF might even have been able to get away with letting Rooney go last season and not even replacing him, unleashing Chicharito or Welbeck to flourish in his absence and, as usual, having the last laugh. And if they hadn’t, he’d have had the luxury of time his successful history had rightly bought him, the howls of protest from United fans like water off a very experienced duck’s back.
But then, as was abundantly clear even before this season brought it into sharp focus, Fergie was perhaps unique in his ability to get good players to perform like great ones: he was doing that well before he came to United, as even a cursory glance at an early eighties Aberdeen team sheet will confirm, and certainly won his last two Premiership titles with squads that on the face of it looked far less glittering than that of our main opponents.
Moyes will never be able to pull that off, and nor would anyone else. His only option is to get better players, and ensure he keeps the best of what he has. That’s why he signed Mata and that’s the reason he made the ill-advised tilt at Fabregas last summer. It’s why Woodward is already making noises about a more active than usual summer in the transfer market. And it’s the reason why, like it or not, he had to do everything in his power to keep Rooney at the club.
It’s what many United fans have craved since Ronaldo left anyway, a digging deep into the coffers to root out a bunch of galacticos rather than pay off the Glazers’ debts. That one of them is already on the staff doesn’t make it any less crucial that we have him at Old Trafford for next season; were he not to be, the rebuilding job becomes even harder and the spending of daft money on someone else no less necessary. It doesn’t give me any great pleasure. I’ve always preferred to see kids coming up through the youth system rather than big money signings, but that takes time and it’s something that United, and Moyes, don’t have at the moment. I’ve accepted a difficult truth: that this is a different era with very different rules, and our new manager will have to play by them. And, within those rules, if nowhere else, paying Rooney an astronomical amount to stay where he is makes complete sense.