Why Manchester United should sell Wayne Rooney
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"Why are we even considering selling our best striker? If we're ever gonna win the league again, we need to keep hold of players like him – goalscorers who get stuck in and link up with their team-mates." So said my mate Eddie when Manchester United sold Mark Hughes to Barcelona in 1986.
True, United didn't win the league for a while after that. In fact, a few months after hawking Hughes they replaced Ron Atkinson with Alex Ferguson, an abrasive and initially unpopular Scot who shook up a fading squad with a few transfers of his own. Popular players were sold, new blood brought in. It worked out alright in the end.
United's last manager never feared replacing players. Nine summers after Atkinson cashed in on Hughes, Ferguson – who had re-signed the Welshman in 1988 – sold him again, along with Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis, to widespread disdain. The new side promptly did the Double.
Alright, Moyes can't introduce an outstanding generation of youngsters. But what Ferguson did in those early years, and again in the mid-90s, was to build and maintain his power and respect at the club by making sure no player – or worse, group of players – became too dominant.
Now, I'm not saying that Rooney is a trouble-maker: far from it, judging by the way he has surprised everyone this season. Cast your mind back to last summer, when Jose Mourinho was trying to woo Rooney to Chelsea rather than playing for a post-Fergie United set to be managed by Moyes, who had sued him for libel. The only question seemed to be when and where the striker would move.
Instead, Rooney knuckled down and has, at times, carried United in this most disappointing of seasons. But therein lies the crux: too many of his team-mates are shirking responsibility, hoping Wazza will come up with something. In a sense, he's stunting the team's evolution.
"Do the math[s]"
There is also a financial element to selling him. United don't desperately need £25 million, and could afford to let him wind down his contract – but that said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Moyes has a major rebuilding job to do, with an unimpressive central midfield and an ageing defence. That £25m could go a long way toward a Juan Mata, Arturo Vidal or Ilkay Gundogan.
Furthermore, it's somewhat unlikely that Rooney will see out his contract. His agent Paul Stretford is renowned for maximising earning potential, as can happen when Real Madrid and Chelsea are interested in your player. In 2010, Rooney was very publicly linked with Manchester City before getting a sizeable wage rise on a five-year contract.
On that occasion the club ponied up, but on that occasion Rooney was just turning 25: he's 29 this year. There will be very little resale value at the end of his next contract, but giving him a short contract extension – should he even agree to it – would only temporarily end the speculation and uncertainty. And you're never far from that with Rooney, a tempestuous player whose footballing intellect can sometimes be overruled by emotion.
Indeed, to an extent this whole discussion is somewhat moot. If Rooney decides to leave – and the signs are that he and his people are at least open to the idea, if not openly embracing it – then United have to manage the situation as best they can.
It would be folly to sell Rooney now - they need him to help qualify for the Champions League - but if he goes in summer for a reasonable fee, allowing Moyes to mould his own team, it could be the making of a new generation which allows Manchester United to remain competitive. And after all, perhaps they could buy back an older, wiser and cheaper Rooney in a couple of years, as they did with Hughes...