By Greg Stobart
It says everything about the nature of Wayne Rooney’s relationship with Manchester United that the striker’s new five-and-a-half-year contract feels like a 'victory' for the player rather than a mutually beneficial agreement that reflects his importance to the club.
Rooney has challenged United to a high stakes game of cat and mouse and for the second time in his career come out on top, with an extortionate £300,000-a-week contract that will end a few months before his 34th birthday.
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Twice Rooney has threatened to leave or refused to commit to United, twice he has walked away with a lucrative contract that makes him the club’s highest paid player.
United had little choice but to bow to Rooney’s demands as his value in the transfer market dropped by the day, with the looming threat of their few remaining stellar talents walking away for nothing at the end of next season.
United probably felt that, with the stock price tumbling and the team clearly still in a state of flux after Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, they simply had to tie Rooney down to a new deal.
David Moyes will be relieved to have secured Rooney's services given he has looked to build the team around the Liverpudlian, while United can claim that the contract reaffirms the club’s ambition, despite what has thus far been a disastrous season for the Premier League champions.
Indeed, along with the signing of Juan Mata in January, Rooney's new deal represents the highlight of the post Ferguson era. There’s certainly been very little to celebrate on the pitch.
Moyes has found himself under increasing pressure as he gets to grips with the unique standards expected of a Manchester United manager, but on the Rooney issue has shown himself willing to step out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow and be his own man.
The Scot was ready to sell Rooney and confirmed in his autobiography last year that the former Everton striker asked to leave the club for the second time in his career last season, although he stopped short of submitting a formal transfer request. The Scot has suggested that money - namely the potential loss of signing-on fees - was the reason Rooney did not lodge a written request.
Sir Alex warned in his book that Rooney had already “lost some of his old thrust” that made him such a precocious teenager and added that the forward “needs to be careful” about his condition as he can be “swallowed up by a lack of fitness”.
The 72-year-old's judgement on players was rarely wrong during 26 years at Old Trafford, so perhaps United fans should be wary that Ferguson wrote that “with that kind of physique it was hard to imagine him playing into his 30s”. If he is right again, a contract worth £70m in wages alone over five years could well turn out to be more burden than blessing.
Without doubt, Rooney has improved this season under Moyes, scoring nine league goals in 21 appearances, but he is not worth £300,000-a-week and does not deserve his ranking as the main man ahead of Robin van Persie or the club's record signing Mata.
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A captain who has twice attempted to engineer a move, demanded to be played in certain positions and spoken of having to be “a bit selfish” hardly seems like the right man to captain a side going through an extensive rebuild.
Rooney’s form has also dipped since he returned from a groin strain while his on-pitch partnership with Van Persie - himself understood to be dissatisfied at Old Trafford - has been virtually non-existent this term.
Rooney, who joined United from Everton in 2004, will talk a good game about being convinced by the club’s ambition but would no doubt have taken a different view had his move to Chelsea last summer materialised.
He has scored 208 times for United and is now almost certain to break the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton's record of 249 goals for the club.
When Rooney stunned United by submitting his infamous transfer request in 2010, Sir Alex told him: "Just remember one thing: respect this club. I don't want any nonsense from you, respect your club".
He never got the message. And whatever happens now, Rooney will never become a United legend.