By Jonathan Birchall
ROONEY FUTURE UP IN THE AIR
Despite leaving David Moyes a team of runaway champions just six months ago, Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to retire last May is looking increasingly like a masterstroke in good timing. With an ageing defence, a midfield obviously lacking in quality, an exhausted Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney desperate to leave Old Trafford, the transition was never going to be seamless.
That Moyes has excelled in his careful management of Rooney, the man who he sued for libel in 2007 over comments made in the striker's autobiography, is the most surprising of the Scot's relatively few success stories during his first six months in Manchester. The man whose relatonship with Ferguson detiorated to breaking point last season has carried the club this term, in no small part thanks to the new manager's treatment of his forward.
Rooney, largely playing in his preferred position just behind the main striker rather than out wide, is excelling under Moyes, who has privately looked to rebuild his relationship with the 28-year-old. "David Moyes has come in, he's playing me up front and I'm enjoying it," explained the striker in October. “I've scored a few goals and I'm playing every week. I feel as fit as I ever have done."
As such, it seems unfair to remind Moyes and fans of Manchester United that Rooney, who was left "angry and confused" over comments made by his manager over the summer and wanted to leave for Chelsea, is still refusing to sit down with Old Trafford officials and commit his future to the club. On the contrary, in fact, he rejected an approach from his own club in October.
United officials are concerned that Rooney's agent Paul Stretford could look to use the fact that the striker's £250,000-a-week contract expires in 18 months as a means of engineering him a move away from Old Trafford.
"When will we talk to him about the contract? I don't really know," Moyes admitted to reporters last month. "I think we are fine. We are just moving on from the summer. It will be done in good course."
Old Trafford chiefs are willing to renew Rooney's current terms, which will keep him as the joint-best paid player at the club alongside Van Persie but the forward, knowing that his next contract will likely be the last major deal of his career, is biding his time. He would only leave for a guaranteed first-team spot at a Champions League club, but United are being left on tenterhooks.
BAINES BACK ON THE WISHLIST
After a summer transfer window that ended with the club overspending embarrassingly on Marouane Fellaini and the arrival of the little-known Guillermo Varela, Moyes is looking to January to right a few wrongs both on and off the pitch.
Leighton Baines, who United tried to sign alongside Fellaini in a failed £28m double-raid on Goodison Park in August, remains the club's No.1 target, with Moyes convinced that he should replace Patrice Evra at left-back.
Unlike Fellaini, the Everton man refused to submit a transfer request in the summer to force through a move to Old Trafford but United officials have told Baines’ camp that they will make a fresh move for the Merseyside-born defender in January and expect him to formally inform the Toffees that he wants to leave.
Baines is under contract at Goodison Park until 2015 and as Goal revealed in October, he will not sign a new deal while United retain an active interest, despite Everton being prepared to double his salary to around £75,000-a-week.
United's owners, the Glazer family, and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward have indicated to Moyes that he will have a substantial budget in January, with United keen to bolster their midfield further despite Fellaini's summer arriival.
"The owners are keen to make a statement by backing David fully, so expect two or three big bids at least in January," a club source told Goal.
TIME'S UP FOR RIO
It has now been over a month since Rio Ferdinand played Premier League football and after not travelling with the squad for United's 1-0 win over Norwich on Saturday, it should not come as too great a surprise that the 35-year-old is set to depart the club this summer.
Ferdinand signed a one-year rolling contract last May - typical of United's players over 32 years old, but the defender has now fallen behind Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the centre-back pecking order at Old Trafford.
The defender, who joined the club for £30m in 2002, has raised questions over Moyes' tendency to not name his team ahead of the matchday, claiming that it was turning him into a "madman".
Moyes is keen to integrate the club's younger players into the first-team but has relied heavily on veterans Ferdinand, Vidic and Ryan Giggs during training, consulting with them heavily alongside his coaching staff.
Ferdinand is known to be keen to explore options in the MLS, with Chicago Fire having been linked with a move for the defender.
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