The Rooney saga


Whether the Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, has already settled for losing Wayne Rooney later so that he can save on his wages, use his transfer fee to restock his dressing room and make his own presence even more formidable, we shall have to wait and see, writes Ted Corbett.

Let's talk about money, the genius that is Alex Ferguson and the story that has dominated the headlines to the exclusion of almost everything else recently.

I swear the start of World War III might have gone unnoticed, an invasion of Martians reduced to a paragraph on page 99 and a cure for the common cold ignored. Wayne Rooney wanted to leave Manchester United — there was only one story in town.

A Rooney departure did not happen because Ferguson realised that he held none of the high cards in this game of chance and the only hope was to give Rooney the highest wage in world football.

Rooney will get 250,000 pounds a week, or 12 million pounds a year, which even after he pays his agent will enable him to buy as many top-of-the-range four-wheelers, bits of bling jewellery and those hooded tops which are his fashion statement as any icon could possibly need.

(Whether he has to pay for any of these items or whether they are handed over free of charge by eager sponsors is another matter. Let's pretend he has to pay; it's simpler.)

Comparisons are odious, they say, so let's make a few of those too.

British pensioners, for instance have put in roughly 50 years hard graft and grow old paying taxes to get a Government payment of roughly 100 pounds a week at 65 which is soon to be 66.

The unemployed — and the Government says half a million may be thrown out of work by their recent Comprehensive Pay Review — get about 60 pounds a week; or 95 pounds if they are married. It is to encourage them to find a new job; not easy at present.

If they want to watch Rooney play it will cost either 12 pounds a week for the TV channel with the most sport — and 170 pounds a year for a licence to see any TV — or better than 800 pounds a season to get into Old Trafford.

The lowest legal wage is close to six pounds an hour — perhaps 240 pounds a week if you can get a full-time job. Much less if you can only find a 12-hour job in a shop.

Prices go up all the time. The beer I prefer is one pound a bottle when there is a sale, wine is at least four pounds a bottle; food for one is estimated at 30 pounds a week, rent might be 50 pounds a week.

“How do people live on 30,000 pounds a year,” someone asked me recently. Far better than the aged on 5,000 pounds a year, I suggested.

Even though Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, the two top British racing drivers, earn 12 million pounds a year as well, it is not surprising his fans were furious that Rooney wanted to leave the club which had given him fame.

There might have been even more trouble if he had gone to Manchester City, now owned by Arab billionaires.

During the 25 years I lived in Manchester there was an often repeated joke. It concerned a black lad who is seen by a City scout in a quiet back street juggling, dribbling, heading and shooting so skilfully that the scout asked the lad if he will consider joining City.

“Sorry,” says the lad. “I have enough grief being black.” The other joke was that when City played against a set of dustbins, the dustbins won 3-0.

No longer; nor are there jokes about Ferguson buying the ground with his loose change and turning it into an Old Trafford car park. It is known that City pay big wages for players they have bought at record fees and treat them like gods.

There is no doubt he is a brilliant manager, in control of the media and sure footed in a sports environment.

The last time we had a long chat was 43 years ago when he was Scotland's centre forward and I was the Daily Mirror sports man in Glasgow. Even then he played his cards with ease.

The conversation began badly. “I just want to know,” Ferguson said, “how much I am to be paid for this interview.”

“The Mirror never pays,” I said. “If that is not acceptable, we can call the whole thing off.” He laughed. “No,” he said. “I just thought I'd ask.”

Since then he has gone from being a nervous player to the master of his own universe, won trophies with Aberdeen, an unfashionable Scottish club, and United.

The Labour Party led by Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, all supreme publicists in their own right, asked for his help in the 1997 election battle after 20 years out of power. He advised them to get fitter and to build in plenty of rest during the campaign. They won, just like United, by a record margin and in his book ‘The Blair Years', Campbell is full of praise for Ferguson.

Fergie likes his own wallet to bulge, so he understands footballers. Whether, as I suspect, he has already settled for losing Rooney later so that he can save on his wages, use his transfer fee to restock his dressing room and make his own presence even more formidable we shall have to wait and see. I thought he looked weary as United won at Stoke the following weekend; he is near the end of a long career.

Come what may Ferguson has shown again that he is among the great managers — Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Alf Ramsey, Brian Clough and Don Revie — but that he might just be the finest of them all.