Rooney and Sir Alex

So Rooney got his way when he negotiated a contract raise in 2010; and now Ferguson, the man who hurled a boot at Beckham and got rid of him, is getting what looks like his revenge. By Brian Glanville.

Wayne Rooney if hardly quite a maverick could well be defined as a malcontent. Albeit a very rich one. Thanks to the embattled, some might even say greedy, stand he took in October 2010, just a few months after his dismal displays in the South African World Cup, when he publicly declared that his Manchester United club were short of ambition. And the ultimate defiance, and for United fans betrayal that he would gladly move across the city to the historic and detested rivals, Manchester City, wallowing in the infinite riches of their Abu Dhabi owners.

Thus effectively pointing a gun at the head of United’s formidable and autocratic manager Alex Ferguson, unused to brooking any kind of challenge or defiance from his players. Even at a time when freedom of contract, thanks to the so called Bosman decision, had tipped the balance of power emphatically from clubs to players.

And Rooney got his way. Got Ferguson and United, that is to say, to pay him a monumental GBP250,000 a week. Fergie and the Glazers — the deeply unpopular American family with United’s fans who had bought the club largely through borrowing huge sums of money for much of which they made the club itself responsible — surrendered. The idea of Rooney joining City of all clubs, was simply not imaginable.

So Rooney got his way; and now Ferguson, the man who hurled a boot at Beckham and got rid of him, is getting what looks like his revenge. For Rooney, as we know, didn’t get on the field in the home game lost in the European Champions League to Real Madrid until full 73 minutes had gone. This though just days earlier, returning from yet another of his injuries, he had scored a splendid goal against Norwich City. But he must have known the way the wind was blowing when in the first leg game against Real in the Bernabeu, Ferguson fielded him wastefully, even perversely, on the right wing, a role quite alien to him, though he is known to operate dangerously at times from the left, when he can cut into and use his powerful right foot. One of his multiplicity of assets.

Ferguson would presumably have it known that at the home tie, with Rooney, the case was that the player wasn’t fully match fit, and that he was carrying excessive weight. Yet in that case, knowing how Rooney, with his flair, ball control and power can transform any game, would it not have made better sense to start him in the match then substitute him if and when he flagged?

But now if Rooney leaves as seems quite probable, where would he go? City no longer want him, nor do Barcelona, though he has a generous admirer there in none other than Lioenel Messi, currently seen as the world’s finest player, who would love to play beside him. Real Madrid don’t want him either and though Paris Saint Germain have all that infinite Qatari money, the absurd new soak-the-rich tax laws in France would force them to pay a colossal amount of money, given his tax bracket, money which they are already paying to that undoubted maverick, Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Maverick indeed was Rooney’s predecessor at United, George Best, the little Ulsterman whose talents outstripped even Rooney’s, whose magical ball control, exceptional speed and total versatility beginning as a precocious right or left winger, he developed into an attacker capable of excelling right across the front line, with heading ability that belied his 5 foot 8 size — and an inveterate, seemingly irresistible, womaniser. Something which Rooney, plain to a degree, could never be.

Where Rooney at various phases of his career, has been connected with what politely might be called ladies of the night, Best was involved with actresses, beauty queens and a profusion of young, devoted women. “If I’d been born ugly,” he once proclaimed, “you’d never have heard of Pele.” Matt Busby, as dominant a Scottish manager of United in his distinguished day as his successor, Ferguson, could do nothing. There was one especially notorious weekend when United were due to play Chelsea, but Best went absent, tracked down to the London home of a talented young actress, Sinead Cusack, where he stayed while reporters and photographers clamoured outside.

I knew and liked Best from the age of 17. He had charm, humour and intelligence denied to Rooney and to that other doomed supreme English player, Paul Gascoigne. Best drank himself to early death and Gazza, recently treated at an American clinic and pitifully fragile, is reportedly fighting for his life. A life he has destroyed since he had to give up a name he illuminated with his superb skill, his flair for the unexpected, his formidable passing and shooting. Once at Lazio he belched into the microphone of a questioning TV reporter. “To understand why Gascoigne did this,” declared Walter Zenga, once Inter and Italy goalkeeper, “we would have to get inside Gascoigne’s head.” And I quoted in print that great comedian Groucho Marx, “Barabelli you’ve got the brain of a four year old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.” Saying that was one side, the other being an exceptional football brain. When will England ever find another Gazza?

Meanwhile, Ferguson insists that Rooney will stay at United. But he said the same about David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy and they were gone within a matter of weeks.

In Italy, back from Manchester City there’s the explosive Mario Balotelli. Again, how far can a club’s patience stretch? City’s was exhausted.