Manchester United's new manager has provoked a row by admitting the striker is now second choice at Old Trafford
Thank goodness things have finally started to move in the otherwise snail-paced Wayne Rooney transfer saga. Fancy José Mourinho apparently being willing to part with Juan Mata or David Luiz to land a player who could not always find a way into Manchester United's first team last season. Although Chelsea have subsequently denied that their offer for Rooney included either player, the new manager's player-assessment and bargaining skills are now under as much scrutiny as David Moyes and his new club's.
At least Chelsea have proved willing to put their head above the parapet.
There was nowhere near enough information coming from either party in Manchester/Australia and far too much guessing going on. Did Rooney tell Sir Alex Ferguson he was unhappy and wanted a move, or did he not? When Moyes said the player was not for sale was he aware Rooney would have been disappointed by that stance, even if it was just the usual ruse to keep his eventual price high? Was Rooney really injured when he flew back from tour early, or was it simply convenient to keep him out of public sight? And perhaps most pertinent of all, what was Moyes playing at when he so pointedly referred to Rooney as back-up for Robin van Persie this week?
People are suggesting the new Manchester United manager might have made his first mistake there, and been too careless with his choice of words, upsetting the player as a result (poor thing). The alternative seems too stark to contemplate, that Moyes was deliberately provoking a row by antagonising the England striker, though on balance that is the interpretation that seems most likely.
Moyes has always been a manager who chooses his words carefully, someone who weighs a question before issuing a considered response. He was never prone to verbal gaffes at Everton, where he was occasionally in the habit of asking journalists to rephrase their question or ask a better one in order to elicit a response, and it seems altogether improbable that he should blunder so crudely in his first month as United manager with the future of one of his prize assets at stake. Especially, and this is not insignificant, as he is almost certainly still in regular contact with Ferguson.
The assumption must be that Moyes and Rooney are not best pals anymore, and that though diplomatically conciliatory at the start of his United tenure, when Moyes talked warmly of Rooney's ability and the possibility that he might stick around at Old Trafford to challenge Denis Law's goal record, the manager is now trying to provoke the player into a reaction, possibly in the form of a transfer request. Why? Most likely because he knows the player wants away, does not see a future for him at United with his present attitude, and would like the business to be conducted sooner rather than later and at Rooney's instigation rather than the club's.
If Rooney received some sort of overture from another club, say a London one who recently won the Champions League, at around the time when he was left out of the United line-up for the crucial game against Real Madrid, who were managed at the time by a guy who is now in charge of a London club that recently won the Champions League, it is possible that Ferguson told Moyes on day one that the player's head had been turned and gave him instructions on how to deal with it. Only a guess, but one that seems to make sense given that Ferguson spoke of a transfer request – an allegation Rooney denied – and Moyes stuck doggedly to his "not for sale" script when asked if the player had given him any sort of commitment that he wanted to stay.
Ferguson was responsible for Rooney's unhappiness in the first place, buying Van Persie, dropping him for the biggest Champions League tie of the season and so on, and it seems entirely possible that Ferguson is still guiding the club's responses now. Moyes said right from the start that he would have no hesitation in turning to his predecessor for advice if he needed it, and it is fair to assume that he will have needed someone to turn to in the last few weeks.
Moyes needs to become his own manager at some point, but this is probably not that point. This is a messy row left over from Ferguson's watch. The difficulty for Moyes is that were Rooney to turn up at Premier League rivals such as Arsenal and Chelsea and do well, it would be perceived that his first big decision was a bad one. And Rooney might do well wherever he turns up, because he is a good player. Yet the bottom line remains that Ferguson could not find a place for him when he needed a team to beat Real Madrid, and Moyes does not appear to have a clear idea of a role for him either, beyond that of understudy to Van Persie. Mourinho was quick with the quip when claiming England would suffer if Rooney is now second-choice at United, but in point of fact Roy Hodgson will have been concerned about that for some time. Rooney finished last season as second choice at United. The question now is where he will go to be first choice again. He is not short of admirers, though no one is going to be fooled by United's stance when it comes to putting money on the table. His present club are pushing him towards the door. They want rid. It was interesting to note that in cash terms Chelsea's opening bid was as low as £10m. The supplementary question is will United get anything like the £40m they thought Rooney might be worth, or will they bite the hand of the first bidder to offer around half that amount? Moyes might consider going back to Chelsea and asking for both Mata and David Luiz in a straight swap for Rooney. If Mourinho wants rid, and United want rid, what is the problem?
Financially it stacks up, and such a deal would draw a firm line under Ferguson's tenure and announce in the most positive way that the Moyes era has begun.