By Jonathan Birchall
Having delivered his public, pointed showing of discontent with life at Manchester United, Wayne Rooney arrived at Carrington for an appointment with the club’s physio on Wednesday morning a picture of calm indifference to the storm that has engulfed him and his club.
After all, he’s becoming an expert at this kind of thing.
Meanwhile at three o’clock in the morning in a Sydney hotel room, 10,000 miles from his seething striker and yet another fire that he will have to now publicly fight, you can imagine David Moyes was feeling a little angry and confused himself.
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The 27-year-old is making no secret of his desire to leave the club with Chelsea having opened the bidding for the striker on Wednesday with an offer from the Stamford Bridge outfit rejected out of hand.
Moyes will have known that the Rooney issue, one of few matters left unresolved by Sir Alex Ferguson prior to his retirement in May, wouldn’t simply go away, and by suggesting that the striker is merely a back-up to Robin van Persie last weekend, the Scot was spoiling for a fight that he simply cannot afford to lose.
It is not his only battle after all.
Despite all too public insistence that Moyes has a so-called limitless budget this summer, Old Trafford sources have revealed to Goal that new United boss has been given a transfer kitty of just £40 million including contract costs, with the club hierarchy having brought forward monies in January to pay for Wilfried Zaha’s £10m move, as well as the significant outlay of £15m-a-year that will continue going towards Robin van Persie’s salary.
Even when the club have sanctioned funds within that budget, the biggest side in English football have been unable to complete a deal. Hours before Rooney's calls of protest, Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova moved to dismiss the possibility of Cesc Fabregas joining United this summer, following a £25 million bid which is at best optimistic and at worst a palpable sign that Moyes and new chief executive Ed Woodward are stumbling blind into the most important transfer window in the club’s history.
And as Thiago was unveiled as a Bayern Munich player on Tuesday after United’s uncharacteristically public push for the young central midfielder, the 22-year-old sat behind a proud bottle of Bavarian beer, failing to once mention Old Trafford, Moyes or anything else remotely related to the Premier League champions who were so confident of signing him only seven days ago.
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And while United are another on this top table of European football, the Premier League champions have failed in their first attempt to complete the deal they needed more than any other this summer.
Instead, the name Thiago joins Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric and Kevin Strootman on a list of what might, could and should have beens. With Paul Scholes now retired, Tom Cleverley still maturing and Anderson's inconsistency an ongoing concern for United officials, Moyes' central midfield options remain alarmingly limited. Inactivity in the market will not be tolerated by the club's patient but ever-expectant support.
Yet United aren’t helping themselves to ease the pressure by so publicly putting their cards on the table. Two months ago, this was a club whose post-match press conferences consisted of a huddle of 20 journalists hopefully holding their dictaphones up to a television at Old Trafford to glean whatever quotes Ferguson chose to give to MUTV, United’s in-house TV channel. No questions asked, quite literally.
Now, in a period of relative Glasnost characterised by the club’s brand new Twitter account – a concept and medium never quite grasped by Ferguson – United’s summer plans are being aired to an extent that those at Carrington or even the Cliff have seen.
Whether it is a deliberate attempt to show ambition in the window or a by-product of Moyes’ less intense scrutiny on such matters, they cannot be seen to fail in the market hereafter.
Moyes, fighting on countless fronts to ensure a smooth transition into the role, has continued to stick to what he knows with regards to the very basics of training. The former Everton boss has been actively involving himself in drills and fitness sessions while seeking counsel from the club’s senior stars such as Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs on and off the pitch.
Meanwhile Woodward, who has replaced the hugely experienced David Gill, himself a confidant of Ferguson, has been keen to portray himself as a decisive, prominent figure. His no-nonsense rebuttal of talk over a new contract being forthcoming for Rooney at the weekend was a clear signal of intent from the man who will be based mainly at the club’s Mayfair offices, rather than Carrington like his predecessor.
As it stands, Moyes and United remain in a state of stuttering flux while Rooney, due for further rehab at Carrington in the coming days, continues in limbo.
What remains is a 10,000 mile stand-off between two sides who dare not stand down. Both angry, both confused.