Rooney's new contract can't paper the cracks at Manchester United

What a week for Manchester United. There can’t have been too many times in the last 20 years when a Champions League game has seemed less significant at Old Trafford than the 1-0 win over Bursaspor, with Wayne Rooney and his PR men stating the player’s desire to leave the club just hours before kick-off.

Despite Rooney ultimately signing a new five-year deal with United, nobody comes out of this unseemly saga smelling of roses. Rooney has left a large swathe of Manchester United supporters disillusioned, risking damaging six years of goodwill at the first sign of trouble (if you believe his statement that is).

Sir Alex Ferguson comes out of it having been portrayed in a different light – an old-school disciplinarian struggling to keep a leash on the braying beast that is player power in modern football.

His press conference, though a masterclass in PR worthy of the Labour Party he is known to support, was such because it showed the Scot in a new light. Hurt, vulnerable, let-down, bemused. Of course he had the final say, with Rooney sheepishly having to apologise to both his team-mates and the manager before signing a new deal, but this saga has underlined in thick red ink that player power now rules in football. The new rules of engagement apply even to a great like Ferguson.

Finally, the club itself. For everyone associated with Manchester United, from the fans to the Glazers, this has been an uncomfortable week.

Whether legitimate reasons for claiming to want out or a well-packaged piece of PR spin, Rooney’s decision to pin it all on United’s lack of ambition points a finger squarely at the Glazers. After years of smokescreens and denials, the focus finally rests on a board of directors whose annual net spend since seizing control in 2005 is £1.9 million per season.

Though the whole saga may well all blow over, Rooney's statement, no matter how disingenuous, calls into question Manchester United's long-term strategy and their ability to attract world-class players under the reduced financial muscle of the Glazers.  

Will Rooney and Fergie's relationship ever be the same?

Was a lack of ambition at United really the reason behind Rooney’s decision? Who knows. Many will have their doubts - and in light of him signing a contract under 48 hours later, it doesn't appear so. But if it was, perhaps he has a point.

Since Sheikh Mansour took over at Manchester City, United’s cross-town rivals have spent £219 million net. In that same time, United have spent - £18.4 million. Though David Gill claims sizeable funds remain available, the £80 million raked in for Ronaldo has for all intents and purposes been spent on debt-servicing interest payments.

The club is leaking money, and Ferguson’s attempts to put lack of investment down to ‘no value in the market’ have now been exposed by one of his own.

While United continue to tick along in the league (they remain the only unbeaten Premier League team), a dip in quality has been evident. A lacklustre 1-0 win over Bursaspor did nothing to disprove Rooney’s claims and the Red Devils have certainly failed to display their customary strength and vigour so far this season. United are traditionally slow starters, true. But this feels different.

While the Rooney saga is likely to die down – for now at least - wider attention will still turn to Manchester United and their future ability to challenge at the highest level.

Perhaps the only positive to come out of all this from a United perspective is the renewed energy it will doubtless bestow upon Ferguson.

The fiery Glaswegian is never better than when responding to a challenge, and will undoubtedly look upon this episode as an affront to both he and the club he has ruled with an iron fist for almost 25 years.

To watch him this week has been to see the Ferguson of old – defiant, shrewd, politically savvy and passionately defensive of the family he has built tirelessly over decades.

Quizzed by Sky Sports about Rooney's previous assertions that Manchester United lack the ambition to provide the honours he claims to so crave, Ferguson retorted: "Have I won 30 trophies or what? Thank you, good night."

That gleam in the eye is back. The fire burns deep within.

Whether United’s structure under the Glazers can continue to match Ferguson’s raging ambition, in the face of huge self-inflicted financial restraints, will ultimately prove whether Rooney was right or wrong to speak out.

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