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Why Rooney had United just where he wanted them

There isn't one overriding reason why Manchester United had to give Wayne Rooney a new contract. But there were more than enough.

Michael Regan

What the internet really needed, of course, was some more words about Wayne Rooney and his shiny new contract. Not enough of those around. But -- and if you haven't read Callum Hamilton's excellent profile of the lost boy wonder, then off you go, enjoy, see you in a bit -- most of the coverage has focused on money involved. More interesting are the circumstances: United, though indebted, are rich as hell, but they're also in a bit of a mess.

The truly weird thing about the new contract, and the reported size of the new contract, is that there isn't one overwhelmingly obvious reason why it's the right thing for the club to be doing. Barcelona give Lionel Messi what he asks for because he's the greatest player in the world. Liverpool give Luis Suarez what he asks for because nobody of similar stature and ability is going to join them at the moment. With United, though, it's the accretion of smaller reasons that meant Rooney was in a position to ask for, and get, precisely what he wanted.


The first and most obvious is that Rooney remains a good player. How good is up for debate, but even his most ardent critic would probably have to accept "quite good", and admit that at times he's been "very good", verging on "excellent". He's not irreplaceable; but, given his ability, he would have to be replaced, particularly since Shinji Kagawa's been disappointing, Danny Welbeck's still raw, and Robin van Persie is made of cobwebs and old Ritz crackers. And any replacement would cost quite a lot of money. Which brings us neatly onto ...


As is the way of things, nobody outside those in the know is entirely sure what's been agreed. It seems hilariously unlikely that Rooney's taken any kind of wage cut or wage freeze, but at the same time the big headline figure of £300k per week is also in dispute. Jonathan Northcroft, of the Sunday Times, reckons that the basic wage is staying about the same -- just a tick under £240k/week -- but will be supplemented with add-ons from sponsors, which will be negotiated by the club's commercial team. Who are, as we all know, really quite good at that sort of thing. Expect Rooney to quickly acquire an official wood glue partner.

Anyway, whatever the precise amount, it's a lot, and some of that money would probably have been saved in the process of selling and replacing. But not, given the calibre of replacement required and the state of the market at the moment, an amount of such grand significance as to justify the move in itself.


Whether a replacement would be better at football is debatable. However, unless they were one of the totally stratospheric, totally out-of-reach alternatives, then they wouldn't have anything like the global reach that Rooney has attained. Trying to be anything like precise about this nebulous stuff is difficult, but to pick just one example: as of April 2012, no player's name had ever appeared on the back of more Premier League shirts. Pinch of salt, obviously, but it makes sense: Rooney's been back-page and occasionally front-page news since the age of sixteen and has spent nearly ten years leading the line of the most notable and aggressively marketed club in the Premier League, which itself the most aggressively marketed league in the world. Top all that up with regular England exposure, adverts for Coca-Cola, Nike, and all the rest, and you've got a player whose profile far outstrips most of his contemporaries and that of almost every realistic replacement.

All of that may be irrelevant, offensive and unimportant to anybody who just wants to see Manchester United players that they like playing football that they enjoy, but such is Glazernomics. Aperol Spritz aren't here for Alexander Buttner, and Aperol Spritz matter more than you do.


The other problem with replacing Rooney is that United's squad is already in line for an overhaul. Ewar Woowoo's been talking about it; the papers have been talking about; even Moyes has touched on it, in his own adorable hamfisted way. As we saw with Tottenham earlier this season, buying loads of players at once -- even ones that look really good on Youtube and have really good Whoscored ratings and play together nicely on Football Manager -- is risky. It makes no sense to change where there isn't a pressing need. Three or four new first-team players in the summer, along with the continued integration of Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini ... while replacing Rooney might have been nice for ideological reasons, it would only add more uncertainty to an already convulsing squad.


Selling big players does not look good, unless they're being sold by a bigger manager. Alex Ferguson was one. Jose Mourinho is one. David Moyes isn't. Additionally, David Moyes has been very obvious in his attempts to rehabilitate Rooney after his falling out with Ferguson at the end of last season. Losing him now would damage the stature of both club and manager.

All of which adds up to: a football club that have a player who would need replacing, who wouldn't be cheap to replace, who would in some important ways be irreplaceable, and who would need replacing at precisely the wrong time. Any one or maybe two of those factors could be overcome: if the squad's attackers were good enough to absorb his loss, say, or if he was just a shade less significant in the grand scheme of things, or if there already was a central midfield in place. But taken as a whole, Rooney has, thanks to circumstance and accident, ended up a uniquely important member of the United squad. Maybe it's a surprise he didn't ask for more.

One final thought: Northcroft suggests that there might be more deals like this in the future: basic wage plus the services of United's commercial team. And that, in turn, gives United something of an edge. After all, they may not have the bottomless pockets of PSG or City, but when it comes to persuading brands to hand over cash in exchange for association, there's no finer outfit in the world. Glory glory.