Manchester United’s malaise Part II – Rooney, our disaffected saviour and transfer musings

by Sam Peoples

 3) Rooney, our disaffected saviour

On the surface, Wayne Rooney’s form is one of the season’s highlights with nine goals and nine assists. On many occasions, he’s proved the missing link between attack and our malfunctioning midfield, almost single-handedly pulling us back from the brink when 2-0 down at Hull. His set piece delivery has proved deadly and it’s no exaggeration to state that United might be in full-blown crisis without his contribution.

Therein lies the problem. Placating Rooney’s alleged dissatisfaction and the ongoing Chelsea transfer saga took the best part of Moyes’ pre-season, diverting energy and focus from the transfer effort. Rooney finally talked of his eagerness to ‘work hard’ and train but has stopped short of committing his affections to the club. More importantly, he’s yet to sign a new deal – so while cool indifference is an established bargaining tactic, it’s in contrast to the fabled ‘where do I sign?’ contract renewals of Paul Scholes.

United fans should long have abandoned the delusion that Rooney has some special bond with the club after the well-documented transfer request of 2010, resulting in Ferguson’s masterful ‘disappointment’ press conference. Ferguson played the wounded paternal figure, speaking in hushed towns and appearing genuinely bewildered – it was swiftly followed by Rooney’s lucrative new deal and subsequent retraction. Rooney’s ‘victory’ was not forgotten and it’s not insignificant that Ferguson used his final press conference to insist that Rooney had requested a transfer.

Our most dedicated on-field performer is perhaps its most indifferent, casting a dark shadow on the ability and attitude of the supporting cast.

Moyes’ dilemma is thus: United’s most important player, and arguably one of our few natural leaders, doesn’t appear that interested in staying at the club. Rooney is savior and mutineer, dragging an underperforming team behind him by happy accident in his quest for personal gain. Rooney’s form vindicates Moyes’ pandering but the club must almost certainly over-pay to keep him and the stigma remains – our most dedicated on-field performer is perhaps its most indifferent, casting a dark shadow on the ability and attitude of the supporting cast.

4) I know what you did last summer – sign nobody

Enough righteous and risible invective has been written about our summer transfer activity but the failure to sign world-class talent is less harmful in terms of flesh and blood, than hearts and minds. Does Moyes have the charisma and cachet to attract the top players? Do United have the cash – or chutzpah – to shop at the top table? Will new talent push ‘safe’ squad members to excel? Are these questions a fair reflection of interrelated complex issues? Based on the summer, the answer is a flat ‘no’.

The bizarre public declarations of intent, culminating in the bungling Herrera-go-round and bargaining disaster-class for Fellaini, left fans – and likely players – bemused, concerned and disappointed. A season that was unlikely to be business as usual began, unusually, with no business.

5) Coaching change

A wonderful Catch 22 for Moyes was that keeping Ferguson’s backroom staff invited allegations of weakness but ditching them prompted claims of arrogance and naivety. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems like a mistake to install the full Everton back room team given its relative lack of European or trophy winning experience, but there’s an inverse scenario where Moyes felt threatened by Ferguson’s old guard, forever answering to ‘how we do things around here’.

For all the fan anger, the universally praised Meulensteen lasted 16 days at Anzhi and is currently part of a manager-a-trois, doing their best to relegate Fulham. Maybe he’s ‘just’ a great coach but we’ll never know what alchemical hold Ferguson had over his staff. Let’s be honest: nobody really believes Mike Phelan was running United for two years, do they?

6) Ed Woodward

What is true is that allowing David Gill’s experience, nous and contacts to disappear during our first managerial change for 27 years was likely a disruption too far.

Dead Woodward, as Twitter affectionately christened him, is unlikely to be the bungling clown we’d like to believe. I’d happily employ a convenient scapegoat who could boost my commercial revenues by £67 million in seven years. What is true is that allowing David Gill’s experience, nous and contacts to disappear during our first managerial change for 27 years was likely a disruption too far.

I know as much about top-level transfer negotiations as I do Ed Woodward’s true character but like any sphere of real-world business, I’d wager it’s about whom you know and how you’re willing to grease the wheels, irrespective of quaint concepts like ‘fairness’ or ‘value’. Want a top player? Pander like mad to his inflated ego or appeal to his pragmatism – so no sending Gary Neville to meet Aaron Ramsey for a stadium tour when Wenger is on hand to personally deliver a long-term development plan – and over-pay. Is Ozil worth £42.5 million? Does he flatter to deceive? Either way – Arsenal are top of the Premier League and fans (briefly) feel optimistic. Yes, that’s right – I’m using Arsenal as a paradigm of transfer success. Consider that.

7) The ghost of Fergie

A lot of nonsense has been written about Ferguson attending games and somehow turning Wee Moyesie’s cheeks pink under his Sauron-like gaze, as Steve Round stamps on the embers of a tactics notebook. It’s also tempting to nod sagely and say things like ‘Matt Busby’, as if history is doomed to repeat as part of a programming workaround when the football gods ran out of RAM.

Alternatively, a 72-year-old man sits 200ft away from the pitch, daring to watch a football match, while another bloke gets blamed for everything that’s going wrong, as intolerant fans and the baying media find Butterfly Effect causes in the unraveling of a shoelace. Sure, Ferguson is a legend and his presence looms large – in giant red letters, no less – but the inference is that Moyes is wibbling jelly mould of a man.

Do the players miss Ferguson? Probably. Do we miss his legacy, aura and psychological effect? Undoubtedly. But he’s retired. He’s ageing. He’s history. Sadly, just not to headline writers who still feel his SEO benefit or cameramen looking for reductive, mock important, symbols of a hideously complex situation. After the press worked itself into a ‘Ghost of Fergie’ funk, it was refreshing to read some perspective from Jonathan Wilson, author of Inverting The Pyramid, who said:

“The matter is almost entirely cosmetic, a useful visual image for the wider issue of the successor struggling to emerge from his predecessor’s shadow, which is of interest largely because United are losing.”

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