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Rooney saga a win-win for City fans

22 October 2010

"Smile for the cameras, Wazza. Or we'll send those terrorists back over to your house again tonight."

I awoke this morning to the stunning news that Wayne Rooney had done a 180 and signed a new contract with Manchester United. Admittedly, for a second I found myself being slightly disappointed that things seemingly had worked out in the end for United and that City wouldn’t be pulling off the ultimate humiliation of the most famous club in Stretford.

However, I’ve had time to digest this, and after further reflection, I don’t think this entire situation could have turned out any better for City. First of all, it’s hard to think of anything that could be more destabilizing to a competitor and arch rival than their best player coming out and essentially saying he had lost faith in the future direction of the club and wanted out. As I mentioned in my previous post, I can’t think of a single other time something like this has happened to a club like United.

This prompted an examination of the austerity measures now in place at United, a club so accustomed to buying the best footballers available that they broke the English transfer record no fewer than who used to routinely break their own English transfer record. MUST seized on Rooney’s statement as proof the diversion of revenues away from footballing talent to debt payments and payments in kind was seriously threatening the club’s future.

The net result of all of this was a shift in the way United are viewed by most of the footballing world. They’re no longer at the top of the food chain; the dream destination for footballers from all over the globe. They’re Arsenal with a better history and massive debt, looking to speculate on young players and hope they come good — but without Arsène Wenger’s track record of doing so.

United are no longer the club that poaches the best players from other helpless club. In both this case and that of Cristiano Ronaldo, United were the helpless club trying desperately to hold on to their best player, who was looking to move on to bigger and better things elsewhere.

And for the first time since his early years at the club — and perhaps the first season or two of the José Mourinho Era at Chelsea — Sir Alex Ferguson looked weak. It was stunning to see him look so forlorn and hurt in his famous press conference earlier this week. But this didn’t happen through any fault of his. This is the epoch of Player Power, and he’s just having to adjust to not being the one holding the strongest hand.

But what really topped it off for me was the reaction of United supporters. They could have followed MUST’s lead and focused their anger on their debt-ridden owners. Instead they turned on their hero, who they decided had betrayed the club he should have loved. It was an awesome mix of insane bewilderment and wounded apoplexy at the thought of losing him that came out of every United fan’s mouth and keyboard.

So we were treated to banners at Old Trafford on Wednesday calling Rooney a whore and expressing similar angry sentiments. A group of balaclava-clad thugs ironically calling themselves the Manchester Education Committee — undoubtedly from London to boot — gathered menacingly outside Rooney’s home in Cheshire, simultaneously demanding to speak with him and threatening his life with a banner that read “If you join City you’re dead.” A similar sentiment was scrawled on a poster of Rooney outside the Nike store in Manchester’s city center.

Now we get to watch United fans’ uneasy embrace with the player they savaged. Even better, there are permanent records on Internet message boards now of United fans’ sour grapes comments about Rooney being grossly overrated and all the other insane things they said at the time to salve their wounds.

And now we know all the bluster from United fans about not taking City seriously as a rival is a complete load. They were all terrified of what they felt was the very realistic chance their best player would be leaving them for a move into Manchester. They saw into the future and they didn’t like it one bit.

As for City, all of this was achieved without spending a single penny. There was no £60m transfer fee paid to United, helping slightly to get them out from under their crushing mountain of debt. No “too good to pass up” offer that let United save face with their fans.

And we’re all spared the rather unappealing prospect of cheering for Wayne Rooney. Aside from Gary Neville, there isn’t another player in the Premier League City fans dislike as much as Rooney. There’s grudging respect for his ability, but his demeanor and personality make him a hate figure amongst City fans. We would’ve made the practical decision to endure this if it had meant humiliating our rivals, but we’ve seen them humbled nearly as much while avoiding the unpleasant prospect of Rooney in sky blue.

Now City will pursue another option for its strike force either in January or (more likely) in the summer, with the very high likelihood of Champions League football on offer. Fernando Torres and Edin Džeko offer a similar level of talent as Rooney, but neither one is hated by City fans like the United striker. Any way you add it up, this was a great week to be a City fan.

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