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The Rooney Question

19 October 2010

Wayne Rooney's life has drawn a Mature rating after he installed that Hot Coffee modification.

Even after a thrilling weekend of Premier League action that saw every game except the Merseyside derby go right down to the final whistle, all anyone in England seems to be talking about right now is a guy who hasn’t scored a goal in open play since March.

The £44,000 question is how the showdown between Wayne Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson will resolve itself. When United stars like David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gabriel HeinzeRoy Keane, Jaap Stam, and Paul Ince crossed the boss in the past, they were quickly shown the door at the club, and the consensus seems to be that Rooney’s time at the club is nearing an end, too.

I’m not entirely convinced that things are irreparable quite yet. Until Rooney actually does leave Old Trafford, I tend to view this as a negotiation tactic to get a better deal from his employers. Not that the childhood Everton fan suddenly bleeds red, but rather simply because I’m sure Rooney would much rather avoid becoming a hate figure in Stretford, London, and Asia if he can earn close to what he wants at his current club.

However, should things be headed for an acrimonious split, there’s plenty of debate over where Rooney will land. On the surface, it would seem there are really only four realistic options with the financial resources to afford a transfer fee expected to start around £50m: City, Chelsea, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.

While there are those who think Rooney would love to escape the magnifying glass of the intrusive UK media with a move abroad, he doesn’t exactly come across as the worldly type who would enjoy living in a foreign land — especially one where another language is spoken. And while Barcelona have been linked with a move for the Englishman in the past, the Catalan giants already are feeling the effects of a giant wage bill, taking out an emergency loan a few months back just to pay wages. Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid would make more sense if they hadn’t come out this week and poured cold water on the prospect.

That seems to leave the two English clubs with the deepest pockets. Interestingly, UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations that don’t go into effect until 2012 are being cited as arguments against both clubs making a move for Rooney. This despite the fact City already are expected to to splash out for a big-name striker either in January or next summer, and the fact Chelsea’s aging roster is going to need some additional infusion of younger talent at some point in the next few years and it’s foolish to think their youth setup can provide all of that.

The Independent raised a very interesting point this morning by pointing out that the Webster ruling applies to Rooney, and that accordingly he could essentially opt out of the remainder of his contract with United this summer by buying out the remaining year of his contract  with a repayment of any wages due him (a mere £5m) plus “a relatively small compensation figure.” The two problems with this possibility are a) the complication of the transfer fee compensation; and b) the fact this has never happened with a megastar or big clubs.

The move that has captured the imagination of the papers and the public the most would be the one into Manchester. If you thought the capture of Carlos Tévez from the exurbs stirred the pot between these two rivals, that’s nothing compared to what you would see should City repeat the trick with United’s top player and fan favorite. Rooney would probably need police protection from the apoplectic red third of Manchester.

As a City fan, I’m torn on the idea of Rooney in sky blue. While there’s no doubting his talent and the off-the-charts schadenfreude we would enjoy from causing United and their fans this kind of historic angst would be absolutely priceless, I’ve never been a big fan of Rooney’s personality. For all the jibes about mercenary players coming to City for the money, the fans want to cheer for likable players, and for all his ability, Rooney just doesn’t strike me as a very likable player.

In any case, this whole Rooney saga looks like it will sell plenty of newspapers and keep Sky Sports News ratings high for the foreseeable future, as I expect this to drag on until at least the summer. What will happen then is really anybody’s guess.

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