We need to talk about Wayne. Specifically the new contract he’s reportedly going to sign very shortly, committing himself to United for the rest of his top level career. The figures have varied slightly depending upon the source but informed estimates price it at approximately £300k per week, inclusive of bonuses with up to £50k related to player and team performance. It essentially maintains Rooney’s current weekly salary with the promise of more if he and the team delivers. As is standard with all things Rooney the deal itself and the figures involved have had a marmite effect on social media. Where our Wayne is concerned objectivity flies out of the window.
So let’s start with the numbers. Rooney has been at United for just under a decade, playing 423 times and scoring 208 goals. He has won 5 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups, the Champion’s League and the World Club Cup, twice been voted United’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year, once FWA Player of the Year, once PFA Players’ Player of the Year and has twice scored over 30 goals in a season at the club. Now I look at that list and see both positives and negatives. The numbers are impressive, but I’m happy to admit that they could have been so much more had he gone on to be the player that his incredible explosion in to our football consciousness suggested he would be. Were that the case he’d probably be in the world’s top three players. Instead he has to make do with a place in the top 10-20 and has been, in my opinion, the second most talented and influential player at United behind Ronaldo during the most successful period in the club’s history. He is a Manchester United icon around the world, the player most global fans would identify as a symbol of the club. And yet in England many Reds simply cannot stand the sight of him.
The prospect of Rooney signing a new deal has brought forth the Wrath of Khan. The main objections to him remaining at the club on a hefty salary revolve around him twice asking to leave, the perception that he is past his best and that he doesn’t have the commitment or work ethic to warrant an extension. The latter point relies on the idea that he is regularly overweight, evidenced by personal opinion of his physique and Sir Alex reporting that he once returned to pre season training 7 lbs above his ideal weight. Some put these arguments forward constructively, others as part of a torrent of bile and genuine hate. Whilst I don’t entirely agree with the constructive criticism I can accept its merit as the basis for forming an opinion, but for me the name calling and rage is absolutely baffling. This is a man who has played a significant part in some of the greatest moments in the history of the club and my life, who will probably go on to be the greatest goalscorer in United’s history and yet a significant section of our fan base would happily flog him to one of our domestic rivals. Where Rooney is concerned though, he isn’t judged by the same standards as other players, or indeed the personal standards of many of those abusing him.
But let’s start at the beginning. Wayne Rooney is a flawed human being. He’s drunk a lot, smoked a bit, gone to some parties and cheated on his wife with a prostitute, on one occasion when she was pregnant. As a professional sportsman some of these are not ideal, as a human being the latter is particularly distasteful. Rooney has had the hopes of a nation and those of the fans of his two clubs on his shoulders since the age of 16. And guess what, he’s screwed up sometimes. Now most of us have probably screwed up too, because we aren’t perfect either. I’d bet my last fifty pence that some of those giving him grief have cheated on a partner, got pissed up when they shouldn’t and generally behaved like a twat. I honestly cringe when I think of some of the things I did in my teens and thank God that I got away with most of them. And it’s not as if Wayne is alone in these misdemeanours within the football fraternity. Off the top of my head I can recall newspaper stories alleging that the club joker was cheating on his wife. We know that Ryan Giggs, a legend amongst our support, had a long term affair with his brother’s wife. We also know that a number of our former and present players have hired prostitutes. One of our players has a song which includes a line affectionately poking fun at it. As for the booze, we have at least two club legends, George Best and Bryan Robson who drank themselves in to oblivion throughout their careers, the former quitting the club at 27 to get pissed up on the beach and shag models. And yet when the lifestyles of these two greats is brought up most United fans will chuckle at their antics. Back with Rooney, one incident is particularly notorious: his New Years Eve lash up three years ago for which he was dropped for the game at home to Blackburn, a match which ended in a 3-2 defeat against the division’s cannon fodder. Except Rooney wasn’t alone that night. Out on the town with him were Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson. The latter soon left the club, largely because he simply wasn’t good enough, but our Northern Irish centre back escaped with very little criticism and no long term damage to his image. I’m pretty confident that other players within our squad get lashed when they aren’t supposed to, but again, they aren’t Wayne Rooney so it’s not a story. So essentially we have a young scally who’s made mistakes relating to booze and women. Hands up from the men in the audience please who haven’t.
And then there’s his conduct relating to his work. Arriving for pre season training 7lbs overweight isn’t clever. But neither is it a huge weight gain. Then there are the requests to leave. The first came in 2010, when Rooney announced his decision not to renew his contract, had talks with other clubs and questioned the ambition of the club going forward. A phone call from the Glazers and a lucrative new deal resolved the situation. In any other walk of life thinking about a new career direction, pondering the medium term future of your employers and wangling a pay rise out of them would be fairly standard practice. In fact I’d imagine that many of you have done the same. I certainly have. Add in the fact most of us had the same concerns about the direction the club was taking under the despised Glazers. But football is different, because the businesses have fans, devoted to the interests of that organisation, not the needs or ambitions of single individuals. Then last summer again Rooney (privately) expressed a wish to leave, having fallen out with his boss. The reasons for that and the source of blame will probably never be known because the player has not spoken on the subject at all and Fergie’s opinion is bound to be biased in favour of his own viewpoint. What we do know is that the latter hung Rooney out to dry after the game against Swansea last season, announcing that the player had requested a transfer. Whatever the true nature of that conversation was, and again we’ll probably never know, it was a vindictive and selfish act from Sir Alex, creating a huge and unnecessary shitstorm for his hand picked successor to deal with. Respected journalists reported that Rooney wished to try something new in his career under Mourinho at Chelsea, something which Nemanja Vidic has just decided to do, without dissent or disdain, and to get away from his toxic relationship with Fergie. Vidic, though, is on the wane, so no one cares. The club held firm with Rooney, refused to sell and rather than pulling the regular players’ tricks of slacking off in training or refusing to play he knuckled down after his return from injury and has been our best player this season, albeit with little competition. Ask yourselves how many of you have fallen out with a colleague or boss, wanted a change of scenery or followed the money in your careers?
Again, football brings it’s own unique issues here. Talented players who ask to leave their clubs are demonised, their characters besmirched by fans who feel cheated upon. But that spite is only flung in the direction of players who by leaving will weaken the team. A poor footballer would be driven to a new club by the fans. And that questioning of personality and loyalty only applies when a talented player wants to leave. When it is, say, a world class striker at a rival club who hangs his employers and long term boss out to dry in public in an attempt to join your own team that individual takes on hero status. Rooney is hated for doing the exact same simply because he did it to you. There are rumours that said world class striker is unhappy and may want to leave next summer himself and even then the sun shines from his posterior. It’s the manager’s fault, the training, his ambitions, which we can’t meet. And going further back, a certain Portuguese flyer, who gave half the service to United that Rooney has, spent three summers petitioning to leave, claiming he was a ‘slave’ and hinting about playing in white. He also got an almost annual pay rise to keep him onside. But that’s ok because he was foreign, really really good and Real Madrid was always his dream. Was playing for United always Rooney’s dream? Again, different standards apply. And ask yourself if clubs, fans and managers offer the same never ending loyalty to players that we demand those players give to our club. A consistent run of bad form and even the most popular player will get grief. A manager may decide that they want a successful player out, as Fergie did with Jaap Stam and Dimitar Berbatov. The former was flogged, against his will, because Fergie wrongly concluded that he was a lame horse. Berbatov was top scorer in the Premier League as United won the title before Sir Alex decided he wanted rid. The player chose the club over a more lucrative offer from City and turned down a move to PSG the summer after that title win, such was his desire to play for Manchester United and fight for his place. The manager, nose out of joint, effectively sidelined him for a year until the player relented. Loyalty in football, particularly where Rooney is concerned, appears to be a one way street.
Further concerns have been raised about the logic of United offering a new deal and the money on offer. The £250,000-300,000 figure can be questioned on a number of levels. It’s said that it is absurd for a footballer to earn such ‘obscene’ sums. On the face of it this is true. It’s an amount of money beyond the comprehension of most of the population. Is it morally fair? No. If this were the Land of Milk and Honey teachers and nurses would earn the most, footballers probably the least. But it isn’t. It’s a capitalist world and in almost any profession, bar some public sector jobs, an employer will base an employees salary on the productivity and profit that individual can bring to the business. Whatever you think of Rooney as a player it’s clear that he’s one of our two best, a global name and icon and a marketing gold mine. Around the world he is the name who is most associated with Manchester United, the one kids pretend to be in the park, the one who sells shirts and boots like no other. He makes the club and our commercial partners, most notably Nike, a huge amount of money. In purely financial terms his value to United is greater than that of any of our other players. In a capitalist world he naturally earns the big money. Yesterday @sportingintel tweeted the following:
“Wayne Rooney’s reported new 4-and-a-half year £70.2m contract in context: #mufc’s income in the same period will be around £2.5 billion. Paying Rooney c.3% of #mufc’s revenue until 2018 not SO odd. Kobe Bryant’s $30.4m salary, for example, is around 10.3% of LA Lakers revenue.”
In the unique business arena that is sport this salary is not outlandish in a company that that has projected future turnover of nearly £500m per annum. Renewing his deal will not have been a decision made on a purely sporting basis. It’s not Rooney’s fault that he’s worth what he is. In reality his on pitch exploits and the publicity afforded to him as the great hope of English football has made him as valuable as he is. As for the exact sums, that’s a matter for United’s income projections. Having established that he isn’t the devil incarnate, if he can extract that money from the club and it’s sponsors then fair play to him. At a time when we all fear for the future it should be a source of comfort that the suits are willing to invest such sums to retain the services of one of our finest players. Is Wayne Rooney the best player in the Premier League? No, almost certainly not. Is he the biggest, most lucrative ‘name’? Quite possibly.
Then there are the sporting merits or otherwise of the decision to retain him. I’ve already admitted that he hasn’t become all that he could have. He’s a flawed genius, like so many before him, like Best, Maradona, Gascoigne etc. Except his ‘crimes’ pale in to significance compared to those perpetrated by those largely positively remembered stars. His form waxes and wanes and recovery from injury can take some time, but there can be no doubt that he has made a huge contribution to the successes of his time at the club. He’s scored great goals and goals in huge games: European Cup semi finals and final, two League Cup finals, the World Club Cup final, enormous league games. Whatever his overall performance in any game he’s a match winner, capable of moments of magic beyond most of his teammates. His longevity has led to him being taken for granted by some, who wouldn’t miss him until he was gone. Replacing him would be an enormous task and were he a Chelsea player there is a good chance that they would have clear water between them and their competitors at the top of the league. Similarly, without him this season United would probably be in the bottom half of the division. The reality of his career at United is that he has done great things and led from the front as the club have won titles. The derision isn’t because he’s been useless, it’s because he hasn’t been the perfect Messi equivalent that we all decided he should be when he ripped up Euro 2004. He’s resented for not attaining standards of living and work that we imagine we would in his shoes. The reality is that this, in most cases, is the individual kidding themselves. Most of us are fallible in normal life, let alone with the eyes and hopes of a nation on our shoulders. Some resent that he is living their dream. Some of it is simply blind jealousy. There is also a widespread assumption that on his thirtieth birthday he will, overnight, turn in to a tub of lard. This appears to be taken as an irrefutable fact when it is anything but. The one thing that we know is that once he steps foot on the pitch Rooney usually gives everything and will play wherever he is told short term. It’s no coincidence that he is the man often asked to fill in in our patchwork midfield of mediocrity. His vision, work rate and pure talent are hard to ignore. The final assumption is that were he sold the money would be easily reinvested, Football Manager style, in a world class footballer. Given our patchy record in this regard and temporarily low footballing status this would be anything but a formality.
Finally, retaining him has consequences for the image of the club, at a time when it is at a low ebb, with a drowning manager playing one dimensional football and no Champions League football to offer. Money will always move mountains, but retaining Rooney sends a message that the club mean business. If you asked foreign players which United player they’d most like to play with I’d bet that Rooney would be the most popular. Potential signings will want to play with him and losing him would send a signal that the slide in standards is very real and ongoing. In addition the club will be losing the majority of its long term stalwarts this summer. As a bridge to past successes and for leadership United need Rooney at the club, leading and inspiring from the front.
I’ve been extremely critical of the club since Moyes and Woodward took over the reins in June. The events that have followed, results, the transfer market, PR, have largely been a mess. The Rooney situation has not been handled perfectly by any means. United were, to an extent, backed in to a corner by their faux nonchalance about offering a renewal. Rooney may have found that after being denied his summer move Chelsea’s interest moved elsewhere, but he and his detested agent Peter Stretford have played a very fine hand, like Rio Ferdinand and Roy Keane’s agents have done before them. But don’t pretend that the club have been totally fleeced either. They’ve done the right thing in keeping him. There is plenty in it for them. Persuading him to stay is a positive achievement for both Moyes and Woodward in a sea of fuck ups. And let’s end this irrational hatred for a man who, whilst flawed is hardly Jack the Ripper. He’s considered leaving a club he doesn’t support (like Ronaldo) but we do, whether for money or ambition or both, and has been persuaded to stay twice, at least in part, by a pay hike, as so many other footballers and employees in any company have done before. Definitely me and probably you. I can’t defend his sexual indiscretions, but I’m not sure that they deserve the bile he receives or that it’s proportionate to that handed out (or rather not handed out) to other such weak minded players. Where Rooney is concerned double standards and hypocrisy rule. By all means be disappointed by him, or constructively consider his merits as a player. None of this is black or white. But hatred is disproportionate.
One comment on twitter today summed up the skewed thinking where he is concerned. I’m not going to mention the person who said it or in any way trying to embarrass him. In fact he’s a very decent, level headed bloke. Which is kind of the point. The irrationality affects us all. There were rumours today that Rooney’s contract was not quite complete and that haggling was taking place about the final details of his image rights. The tweet in question implied that, after being offered a £300k wage, negotiating over these image rights was taking the piss. And yet every high profile, talented, footballer will have negotiated similar deals as part of contract renewals or moves. Ronaldo and Messi only recently did the same. But for Rooney to do so is somehow a moral outrage.
Is our Wayne worth £250k per week plus bonuses for team success? The very best in Messi and Ronaldo earn considerably more. Maybe, with all of the above in mind, you might decide that, whatever you think of him as a man, making Rooney the best paid player in the Premier League isn’t so ludicrous after all, or maybe you won’t. He doesn’t love United as much as you or I, but then should we expect him to? He’s a div, but he’s our div. He’s not our first and won’t be our last.