Earlier today, it was revealed that Wayne Rooney, Manchester United's out-of-form wantaway, had signed a new deal with the club for five more years playing at Old Trafford. It was a fittingly insane conclusion to a crazy week for anyone following the story, and as I said to Kirsten this morning, virtually no one has come out of this smelling of roses. So, if you're willing to dive in for one more go at this lunacy, let's take a swing at the players in this petulant little play.
Might as well start with the subject of all of this nonsense. This was obviously a PR mistake on the part of Rooney and his representatives. Unlike a lot of people, I don't have any qualms with Wayne Rooney wanting more money. Sure, he's out of form now, but he absolutely carried Manchester United last year for long stretches of the season. I would even stick my neck out to say that Wayne Rooney is more valuable to Manchester United than any other player is to their club in all of England. So it kind of makes sense that he would want to negotiate a contract that matches his value to United. I also don't have a problem with Rooney's statement about why he wanted to leave Manchester United. I listened to Mickey Thomas, an ex-winger for United who speaks like he's been beaten with a pillowcase full of rocks, complain on BBC Five Live that it was absolutely ridiculous for Rooney to leave United in search of trophies, because "they're the biggest club in the world, innit?" Or something stupid like that. The problem with that is, well, United aren't what they used to be. They're massively in debt, and they're heavily reliant on players with regular injury woes (Rooney, Ferdinand) and who are nearing ever closer to retirement (Giggs, Scholes, Van der Sar, Ferdinand again.) I don't think it's ridiculous to suggest that their league title in 2008-09 might be the last big championship they'll be winning for a while. So Rooney is, though I shudder to say this because it gives James Milner a bit of credence, perfectly within his rights to request a move to a club that has the squad to win something while he's still in his peak years. The only problem, as I said earlier, is how Rooney handled the situation. If he just wanted a bigger contract, it's poor form to make those negotiations public. As soon as his statement was released, the only choice should have been to leave Manchester United. It's difficult to row back from a statement like that without looking like, well, a money-grubbing you-know-what.
Sir Alex Ferguson:
Follow down after the jump, wherein I heap blame on Sir Alex Ferguson, tabloid trash, and maybe even you.
A lot of people are claiming this as a victory for Lord Ferg. I have a hard time believing that, seeing as how he just let his star player hold him and the club he loves to ransom. What makes Rooney different from Beckham, or van Nistelrooy, or Cristiano Ronaldo? Since when did Alex Ferguson become an advocate for player power? At some point, who knows when, the dynamic at Manchester United shifted to a point where Alex Ferguson needed certain players more than they needed him. Fortunately, most of those cornerstone players came from the United academy and grew up with Ferguson. Giggs and Scholes in particular would never turn their backs on Ferguson, because he's all they've known. However, Wayne Rooney has become more important to United's success, and thus Ferguson's success, than Giggs and Scholes can possibly be at their advanced ages. And, despite what Ian Holloway may claim, Manchester United hasn't really done a lot for Wayne Rooney, as far as I can see. He was already a star when they poached him from Everton, his home club. He's won things with United, but Wayne Rooney was always going to win things. As we've learned, he has a drive to win titles, and he's willing to ditch any club if something better comes along, as he proved in his move to United. For what it's worth, I still think he'll leave. There's no way Wayne Rooney wants to stay at Manchester United after the Liverpool-esque fall from grace that is looking more inevitable every day. Nor should he. It's not in his best interest.
Now, we all have our assumptions about the football media. They have a well-earned reputation for fabrication (link: , and even if it's not fake, they get their backs up when you bother them about attribution for whatever their "sources at the club" may or may not have told them. Worse yet, they have the gall to be sanctimonious about the players they cover, like they don't really understand what the situation is. I'm hardly the biggest advocate for player power, but I genuinely don't understand what journalists stand to gain by constantly pillorying players whenever they come in conflict with their club or their manager. Further than that, there are a few strands of "conventional wisdom" that terrible journalists cling to in the hopes of remaining relevant. Want some examples of these ridiculous tropes? How about "Alex Ferguson always knows what's best, because he knows how to play mind games?" Or, "it's Rafa's fault, rather than a faltering club that we've overrated because they lucked out a victory over Milan in 2005?" Or "Harry Redknapp is anything other than a soul-sucking parasite who is significantly responsible for the dire situation threatining the very existence of Portsmouth?" But in the grand scheme of things, there's few stories they love more than "overpaid player loses touch with the loyal supporters." Which, really, is the purest brand of sanctimony. Because footballers have absolutely nothing in common with loyal supporters. Football, for them, is a job. It's not their job to make you like them, it's their job to play football at the highest level. That's really it. Which brings me neatly on to my last point.
Did you hear about the United "supporters" that congregated outside Rooney's house and threatened him with death, if he dared to join City? Is that not COMPLETELY INSANE? Listen, I love how much fans who've grown up supporting a team care about "their club." If I'm honest, I'm even a little envious of them. But the idea that any of them think that doing this is even remotely okay is an absolute disgrace. When I first heard of the protest (to put it in far gentler terms than it deserves), I immediately checked a United fansite that I usually think is pretty reasonable. It seems to me that responsible voices would shout down the crazies on the fringe. It seems that I was wrong. The idea of players as property of a club and their supporters still exists in Great Britain, but on the other side of the Atlantic, we've become more and more used to the reality of sports as a business. I struggle with the notion that athletes are, on the whole, treated better than they deserve. Most professional footballers these days haven't been allowed to enjoy a game of football since they got chucked in a club's academy system at a very young age. So perhaps the argument that "we're paying them millions of dollars to just play a game that I do for free down at the park" doesn't hold a lot of water. Because they're a lot better than you at that game, and you don't have a career-ending injury and the end of your livelihood staring you down every time you kick off with your friends. Unless, of course, you're friends with Nigel de Jong. The most important thing to know about athletes is something that Will Leitch, formerly of Deadspin, wrote about in his book God Save The Fan. Athletes don't know you, and if they did know you, they probably wouldn't like you. And for Christ's sake, they certainly don't owe you anything.