When Wayne Rooney questioned Manchester United’s ambition in October 2010, it was widely seen as a means of prising a new £250,000-a-week contract out of the club.
More than three years later, and with talks over another new deal yet to get off the ground, you could argue the England striker had a point.
Despite last season’s title success, it is hard not to agree that United were already a club in decline when Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement ushered in a new era under David Moyes.
A difficult campaign sees the Barclays Premier League champions in seventh place after the New Year’s Day defeat at home by Tottenham. Moyes’ team now face a battle simply to finish in the top four.
In the worst-case scenario, United are happy they can absorb the financial blow of failing to qualify for the Champions League. Whether Rooney would be satisfied outside Europe’s elite at this stage of his career is another matter altogether.
The 28-year-old will shortly enter the final 12 months of his contract at Old Trafford and so far his representatives have shown little appetite to accept United’s invitation to step up negotiations over a new one.
It is understood Rooney would prefer to put off any decision until after the World Cup before committing to what will almost certainly be the last major deal of his career. He wants to see where United finish and what new signings they have lined up after a frustrating transfer window last summer when the club’s lack of pulling power was exposed by a failure to land a series of top targets.
With United adamant he will not be sold, it opens up the possibility of Rooney running down his current deal and leaving for nothing at the end of next season, although he may also be able to buy himself out of the rest of his contract before then.
Moyes enjoys a good relationship with Rooney and has told him that he can go down in United folklore alongside Sir Bobby Charlton.
He continues to make encouraging noises when asked about the situation, but in reality there has been little progress. It is a far cry from the summer when the player expressed a desire to leave Old Trafford and United fended off strong interest from Chelsea and Arsenal.
The champions then enraged the Rooney camp by suggesting there was no hurry to open negotiations and that they would wait to assess his attitude following a fractious final season under Ferguson.
Rooney retorted by telling them he was at the peak of his powers and had absolutely nothing to prove after nearly a decade at Old Trafford. He has emphasised the point this season by being United’s most influential player by some distance, with 11 goals in 24 games. The boot is very much on the other foot now and in the absence of the frequently injured and, it would seem, unsettled Robin van Persie, you wonder how bad problems would be without Rooney.
Against Spurs on Wednesday, he continued to play through the pain of a persistent groin injury but cut a frustrated figure as he tried to lift those around him. It has become a familiar sight this season.
The situation echoes that of 2010 when Rooney questioned whether United could still attract top players, a stance that was seen as heresy by the Old Trafford faithful. However, except for signing Van Persie, could they say their club has stocked up on world-class talent since then?
United are confident they can again convince Rooney of the club’s ambition and reports in Germany yesterday indicated Moyes is ready to move for his primary target, £40million-rated Borussia Dortmund striker Marco Reus. Two high- quality midfielders remain the priority but forwards Radamel Falcao, Edinson Cavani and Diego Costa are believed to be on the list of targets.
There is also the prospect of success in cup competitions. United have a real chance of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Capital One Cup final after drawing Olympiacos and Sunderland. – Daily Mail