Wayne Rooney for Bayern Munich? Alex Ferguson insists he will be playing at Old Trafford for the distant future; Bobby Charlton declares there is no chance of letting him go; even though Franz Beckenbauer, a far bigger influence at Bayern than Bobby at United, tells us he would love to have Rooney in Munich.
As for Ferguson, he has, in the vernacular, form in such matters. In the past he has declared that neither David Beckham nor Ruud Van Nistelrooy was for sale. But in a matter of weeks, sold though both were. That Rooney of late has been alternating superbly taken goals with episodes of sluggishness, confirming Ferguson’s alleged view that he is overweight and thus not fully match fit, suggests that he may be in irreversible decline.
Ferguson for his part is not the most forgiving of creatures and surely Rooney’s defiance in 2010, when he said the United team was in decline, threatened to join Manchester City, and eventually exacted an enormous £250,000 a week revised contract, must have stuck in the manager’s throat.
That Rooney ever since his phenomenal 16-year-old beginning at Everton has been one of the finest English players for decades is beyond dispute. He has galvanised both clubs and country on so many occasions. Had the Portuguese not kicked him out of that quarter final in Lisbon in the European Championship finals of 2004, England would probably have gone on to win the tournament.
But his career has been chequered with disappointments and occasional excesses. The last European finals saw him perform, indifferently, in just the last couple of England games, emerging from suspension inflicted for an ill-tempered foul in Montenegro. In the 2006 World Cup in Gelsenkirchen, against the Portuguese, a petulant foul got him sent off, too. Yet he is not in essence a self-destructive player like those two brilliant mavericks George Best, his predecessor in United colours, and poor Paul Gascoigne.
Best, in a moment of modesty, once told us, “If I’d been born ugly, you’d never have heard of Pele.”
Unlike Rooney, and emphatically unlike Gascoigne, whose attention span off the field, by contrast with his extraordinary awareness on it, was infinitesimal, Best, whom I knew and much liked since he was 17, was highly intelligent and humorous.
Where Gazza was limited to sometimes crude practical jokes, and Rooney has none of Best’s charm and fluency. But Best, for all that, drank himself to death and Gazza, recently attending a clinic in America, seems all too well or ill on the way. Rooney is a far more stable character than either of them.
But if 2010 was such a rewarding year for Rooney financially, it was a disastrous one for him, and for the England team at large, in the South African World Cup. During which he even, at the end of a dismal English display, exchanged words as he came off the field with barracking English fans. In parenthesis, it might be said that playing him on the right flank or the left, as Ferguson did in the two lost games against Real Madrid was hardly ideal.
After Rafa Benitez: who? It seems inevitable that Benitez, now liable to sudden outbursts of pique and self-justification even to the extent of reciting his record of trophies, will leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season.
His appointment, however temporary, at Chelsea was always mindless to a degree, not on the grounds of competence but because he was known to be an anathema to the Chelsea fans after those torrid challenges against Liverpool when he managed them.
While Liverpool’s major triumph under Rafa, winning the European Cup in Istanbul, arguably came despite him rather than because of him. Only at half time, 3-0 down, did he put a marker on Kaka. After turmoil in his dressing room.