Sir Alex Ferguson has never looked so tired. Forced by UEFA regulations to finally attend a press conference, something he hasn’t done for many weeks, he looked broken and defeated as he confirmed that his star pupil has demanded a transfer. Ferguson has fallen out with superstars before, even those he has raised from his own youth ranks, but he has never been defied and betrayed like this. Wayne Rooney has been offered a lucrative new contract, he has turned it down and he is adamant that he wants to leave. And Ferguson is at a loss to explain why.
Like a Glaswegian Eeyore, in a low, sad monotone, he confirmed that he had tried to take Rooney out of the firing line and was baffled as to why it had resulted in such a dramatic reaction; the infamous mixed zone denials after England’s draw with Montenegro. He didn’t know why Rooney would want to leave the biggest club in the world and could say only that the contract offer, which he claimed would be difficult to beat elsewhere, is still on the table. ‘Disappointed’ was the word he kept coming back to and it’s not hard to see why.
Ferguson supported Rooney during the World Cup, calling him during the tournament to try and ease his obvious anxiety. He supported him afterwards, when he refused to respond to tabloid pictures of his star player binge-drinking and smoking on the last day of his summer break. He even supported him in the aftermath of those seedy tabloid allegations. He took him out of the side against Everton to spare him a public humiliation, but not once did he publicly blame the player for causing the problem in the first place. Apparently, that wasn’t enough. Rooney was furious anyway.
Out of form and apparently out of his mind, he is preparing to betray his club and leave for their nearest rivals. Ignore the leaks from Rooney‘s PR team, suggesting that he is disappointed at the scale of the acquisition debt incurred by the leveraged buyout and the effect it will have on future recruitment policy. As if Rooney has a clue what any of that means. Ignore too, the leaks from the club suggesting that Rooney is a money-grabber and just wants a Yaya Toure-sized paypacket. This is about one issue. Rooney has been told off for dragging the club through the gutter, he has been dropped because he’s been in the worst form of his life, and he thinks that it’s all so unfair. He believes so emphatically in his own hype that he no longer considers himself to be subject to the same rules as everyone else. That’s why Ferguson is so sad.
Football has changed dramatically since he first arrived in England, but the old Scotsman has always changed with it. From the hard-drinking, hard-working side of 1993 to the kids of 1996 to the treble-winning legends of 1999 through the tactical metamorphosis of the mid-noughties to the Rooney and Ronaldo-led three-times champions of the last decade, he has always been ahead of the curve. But not now.
Rooney has been in abject form for six months, he has scored just once for United since March, he has shamed his club by behaving like a morally bankrupt sewer rat, he has publicly undermined his manager and there is nothing that anyone can do except sit quietly and hope that he changes his mind about that new contract. Modern football is deranged. If Carlo Ancelotti’s laissez-faire treatment of his philandering superstars is now the template for the generation then Ferguson looks increasingly like a man behind the times.
Perhaps this is it for the dark Knight. Perhaps this is the sign that the game he grew up and grew old with has moved on and left him behind. Well, if I was him, I’d make my last act resonate through history. I’d strike one blow for the old school before I shuffled off into the sunset. I’d take that improved Rooney contract off the table, roll it up as tight as I could and force it where the sun doesn’t shine. And I don’t mean Greater Manchester.