Media reports have stated that Wayne Rooney is well into discussions with Manchester United over a new contract, allegedly worth £300,000 a week. I would hazard a guess that a significant portion of football fans generally, as well as a fairly hefty quota of Manchester United supporters in particular, would question the wisdom of this. It is true that this season, ensconced as he is in professional misery and often looking somehow more facially craggy because of the Atlas-like weight on his shoulders, David Moyes has been able to shelter under the fact that Wayne Rooney has looked revitalised under his stewardship. He has shed the listless and uninterested haze around him this season, replacing it with an aura that, as closely as in any season recently, resembles the fiery energy that defined him in his early years. His return of 9 goals and 9 assists in what has at times been a laboured attack in the league this season is very good indeed. And yet it feels to me that a good half season, after 2 or 3 unremarkable ones, isn’t quite enough to justify a fresh contract that involves such handsome figures. He wasn’t sold to Chelsea during the summer not because he didn’t want to go, not even really because United didn’t want to sell him, it seemed like it was more down to United not wanting to strengthen direct rivals. Had a satisfactory bid come in from overseas during that window, PSG and Madrid were mooted as possible suitors, then one senses that United’s resistance wouldn’t have been quite so virulent. All credit to Rooney, he didn’t mope and instead, maybe reinvigorated simply by the presence of David Moyes (despite the team being blunted as a whole) got on with playing, and playing well.
But this is the same player who handed in a transfer request not so long ago, who has frustrated United supporters to no end in recent seasons, and who currently occupies the exact position on the field that United’s recent record signing, Juan Mata, excels the most in. Rooney has been quoted as saying that Juan Mata’s arrival is a factor that has motivated him to thrash out new terms with the club, that “it’s exciting. Juan’s has come in and it’s another world class player to have in the squad.” David Moyes has spoken of the revamping he intends to carry out at United, to reshape the squad that Sir Alex Ferguson managed to wring the last few drops out of during last season’s title triumph, but was obviously tiring and in need of wholesale changes. Mata is the first major step in this process. But it has been more than obvious in the four games that Mata has played for United (one win, two draws and a loss) that the talented Spaniard looks much less talented when not playing in his favoured central position. Moyes’ decision to play Mata out wide has drawn criticism which has been bemused at best, damning at worst.
It begs the question; will Rooney’s perpetuity as the leading figure at United, playing in his preferred No. 10 role, affect the success of Mata? Why would David Moyes deliberately jeopardise the first big step in his United revolution? The nadir of Rooney’s last season under Ferguson was the decision Ferguson made to leave Rooney out of the second leg against Real Madrid. In fact, with the arrival and instant impact of Robin van Persie, Rooney was seen as less vital to the team under Ferguson. Instead of being motivated to show his worth, Rooney was disgruntled and wantaway because he was no longer top of the class. But Moyes has made him head boy, so suddenly Wayne’s all sweet on United again. At 28 Rooney will not improve significantly from now on. He is still, when he wants to be, an incredibly effective player, filled equally with crackling dynamism and honeyed tact on the ball.
But what if Moyes decides to play Mata in Rooney’s position, and finds that Chelsea’s player of the year for two of the last three seasons is a better choice there? Rooney may well get the hump again, and what you’ll have is an old impetuous grump with a monster salary and a lower market value than he has right now.