Addressing the Associated Press ahead of his side Champions' League match against Bursaspor, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson made it clear that he would be answering questions on Wayne Rooney's future. Reports and rumours that Rooney wanted to leave became reality, a harsh one for Ferguson and anyone involved with Manchester United as a football club.
Rooney has it all at United. He is the best-known, and currently most gifted, player at one of the world's most successful and most renowned clubs, and is paid accordingly. Adored by the fans, Rooney is (rightly or wrongly) equated with the all-time greats of one of the UK's most prestigious and treasured sporting institutions, all under the tutelage of one of the most respected coaches in the game. At Old Trafford he has, and can continue to win major trophies at both domestic and European level. Why would he possibly want to leave?
The BBC's Dan Roan describes Rooney as 'ambitious':
"Ambition brought Rooney to United in the first place. Ambition on the part of the player, who left the club he had followed as a boy. And ambition on the part of his manager, who recognised the innate genius of the stocky teenager and ruthlessly stole a prized asset Everton had nurtured and honed."
His view is that Rooney's decision to find a new club is reflective of his ambition. Roan romanticises Rooney's situation. He wants, like any great player, to play in the best teams and with the best players. Roan believes there is more motivating wantaway Wayne than the selfish desires of the modern footballer. "To say this is just a mercenary, available to whichever club will offer the best deal in town, is too simplistic", he argues. Roan correctly observes that, despite Manchester United's current inferior financial position to many of their rivals, Rooney is not leaving for money, a cliché all too familiar to us with players like him. Manchester United can, should, and probably are offering Rooney the money he can earn elsewhere to try and keep him.
However, in presenting Rooney's motivations as solely ambitious, he is presenting us with a figure whose intentions, unlike the modern footballer, are honourable and rational, based on the premise that Rooney wants to become all he can be, and justify his now wilting tag as one of the world's best players at a club better equipped for him to do so than United. Rational they certainly are. When his side were at their best two or three years ago, they were driven forward by 'Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez', the deadliest attacking force in the world at the time, supported aptly and strongly by a sturdy defence and creative midfield. Over the past two years, the attack has lost two of its three prongs, and its previously sturdy support has grown older and more fragile. Rooney arguably feels as though he is left in a team which still relies on imminently-retiring, and as yet not replaced midfield talent, while the faces Ferguson has brought in (Bébé, Hernandez, Smalling) have hardly instilled the belief in observers that United are the world-class team they were a few years ago. This view has only been magnified in recent weeks.
While an entirely rational reason for Rooney to find a club suited to match his desires, Roan has falsely identified his response as rooted in 'ambition'. Surely an ambitious Rooney would consider the prospect of being the one player United builds a new team around; he would be the lynchpin around which Man U. bases its next trophy-winning generation. It is a solution which would satisfy both his desires to be a great footballer and a great champion – all at a club with the name of Manchester United. He would also take the majority of the plaudits for the club's success; management might even consider appointing him captain to reflect his importance. Without his talents at full disposition, this season at least, Manchester United do not have a good enough squad to challenge for the title. He knows this. Needless to say Rooney will be tempted by the lure of Manchester City, but the ambitious side in Wayne would be telling him that United are, and may still be for some time, a 'bigger' club than their neighbours.
What motivates Rooney is something different from ambition, it is success. Rooney's motivations are, despite Roan's arguments to the contrary, entirely rooted in the mentality of the modern footballer. Only it is not out of his addiction to, and indulgence in money, but power and success. Rooney epitomises any power-hungry footballer in his aim to win medals and trophies, and take the plaudits for them. As long as he is in a rich and successful club, on the back page of every newspaper, he will be satisfied. Which club this is, or how many times he changes clubs (inevitably turning fans against him) is incidental. This pursuit renders the modern footballer devoid of any loyalty or humility, which here justifies Rooney's seeming disregard of Manchester United and Alex Ferguson in his past (and future) development.
Rooney is still being highly greedy, only he is seeing medals instead of dollar signs. Such a distinction between ambition and desire for success can be seen in Ashley Cole's assertion that his move from Arsenal to Chelsea wasn't for the money, but for the glory, an equally greedy reason for a transfer, though his Chelsea contract offer was far more lucrative than what Arsenal were tabling.
The extent to which Rooney's personal life is at play also needs addressing. Rooney is ironically falling victim on the field to the media frenzy surrounding his personal life, an institution whom, in his profession, he so craves and needs. Rooney embodies the fickle 'have your cake and eat it too' attitude of the celebrity to the media attention, so perfectly exemplified by Jean Harlow, one of the first 'celebrities', in Bombshell, in which her movie star character so naively believes she can have only 'good publicity'. Perhaps Rooney wants to move abroad, away from the intense scrutiny on his personal life.
So a final question: where next for Rooney? At this juncture, besides Manchester City (perhaps Chelsea), an English club seems unlikely. English clubs notoriously pay ludicrously inflated prices for home-grown talent and only City would be able to afford his services. Outside Europe, where Rooney is inevitably less highly-rated, it seems unlikely he will be sought after for more than €40-50 million (£35-45m) , especially given the length remaining on his contract. Barcelona surely can't afford that, neither can AC Milan, realistically leaving Inter and Real Madrid as the only clubs big enough to satisfy Rooney's desire for success. Inter may be European Champions now, but would Rooney really switch Old Trafford for the San Siro, Ferguson for Benitez? Madrid and Mourinho seem a more than plausible destination for him, if they want him, that is: Real are not exactly short on strikers, and The Special One is notoriously shrewd with his squad sizes. Would a part-exchange deal involving Benzema, a long-time United target, be an option? If Madrid want him, that is.