With David Beckham having called time on his professional career, Wayne Rooney’s status as the most high profile footballer of English nationality is unchallenged.
As befitting such a player of such distinction, Rooney’s future promises to be the pre-eminent Premier League-related transfer saga of the summer window.
One of Sir Alex Ferguson’s last acts as Manchester United manager was to go public with the forward’s desire to leave Old Trafford, a delicate situation complicated even further by the shared history of the Scot’s dug-out successor David Moyes and Rooney.
Speaking after his final home match as United boss, a 2-1 win against Swansea, and in the wake of widespread reports that England’s talisman had handed in a transfer request, Sir Alex said: “I don't think Wayne was keen to play, simply because he has asked for a transfer. I think he wants to think it through in his mind - I think that's a good idea.”
Drawing out the battle lines in what had become a head-on collision between England’s biggest club and player, Sir Alex added: “We're not going to let him go. I think maybe he is a bit frustrated. He has been taken off once or twice in the past couple of weeks.''
The private response from the Rooney camp was that the 27-year-old had not handed in an official transfer request, merely expressing his frustration to Ferguson that his status had been downgraded in the final months of a season in which he was dropped for the biggest match – the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid – and subsequently frequently substituted in the second half of key domestic encounters.
Nevertheless, well-placed sources have told Goal that Rooney is keen to sever his ties with United as he sets his sights on a new club next season.
Contrary to reports that Ferguson’s retirement has resolved the issue and that the appointment of Moyes could prompt a U-turn from the forward, it is understood that Rooney is hostile to playing again under the manager who handed him his debut in professional football.
Moyes successfully sued the former Everton man for libel in 2008 and, although both men have held out public olive branches and insisted the matter has been resolved, bad blood remains.
Rooney has maintained a public silence over the last month but, privately, has begun to lay the foundations for what is an increasingly inevitable exit from Old Trafford.
As revealed by Goal, his camp held two secret meetings with two clubs in the same day last week, believed to be an English club in the morning followed by a continental big-hitter in the afternoon.
Only a small elite are able to offer Rooney the combination of sporting challenge and £250,000-a-week wages required to tempt him to pastures new.
Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco have all expressed an interest in signing the England international this summer, while Bayern Munich publicly distanced themselves from a move for the player after being strongly linked with a summer swoop.
PSG and Monaco, the nouveau riche French clubs, have the spending power to match and even exceed Rooney's United package, although this might not be enough to persuade the notoriously England-centric striker to swap the Premier League for Ligue 1.
Real Madrid are in the market for at least one A-list front man as they prepare to offload Gonzalo Higuain, while Bayern Munich could also re-enter the race as they face a 12-month wait to land top target Robert Lewandowski.
At home, the strongest interest in Rooney comes from London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea, although it is not inconceivable that Manchester City could make a move if they fail to land prime centre-forward target Edinson Cavani.
Arsenal are the current bookmakers’ favourites to sign Rooney, even though any deal would require the club not only smashing their transfer record but also nearly tripling the salary packages of current top earners Theo Walcott and Thomas Vermaelen, who are on around £90,000-a-week
Nevertheless, Arsene Wenger has gone public with his interest in Rooney and outlined the challenge that Moyes has in "bridging the gap" with the player who described him in his autobiography as overbearing, controlling and ultimately responsible for his decision to move to Old Trafford for £25million in 2004.
Furthermore, chief executive Ivan Gazidis explained in a wide-ranging interview that the Gunners now possess the financial muscle to compete for the world's elite players. Asked if Arsenal were now potentially in a position to pay a £25 million transfer fee and wages of £200,000 a week for one player, Gazidis declared: "Of course we could do that. We could do more than that."
From United’s perspective, selling Rooney is not the doomsday scenario it was in October 2010, when he first tried to tunnel his way out of Old Trafford.
The suspicion harboured by Ferguson and several other key members of United’s technical staff was that Rooney might have already passed his peak and that his lifestyle is not conducive to the kind of longevity enjoyed by Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
Robin van Persie’s goals last season relegated United’s No.10 from main man to a mere member of the supporting cast, while Shinji Kagawa could further diminish Rooney's leading light status should he stay at Old Trafford.
That is unlikely to be palatable to the player and his long-time agent Paul Stretford, who want to test the market and see what is on offer elsewhere.
Any transfer would have to be approved by Moyes and sanctioned by the board, while other hurdles would need to be overcome, including the input of kit manufacturers of Nike, who have stressed the importance of Rooney remaining at Old Trafford as part of their continuing commercial partnership with United.
However, Moyes and senior United officials might weigh up Rooney's match-winning talents with his capacity for causing disruption and discreetly let suitors know their asking price.
If United play hard ball, as the two years remaining on Rooney's contract fully entitles them to, the club risks a marked depreciation in value of one of their most saleable assets. They also open the possibility of the player downing tools and going out of his way to engineer a move, as Luka Modric, Van Persie and Clint Dempsey all did to varying degrees last summer.
The suspicion is that the saga will reach a conclusion one way or another by the time the summer window shuts on August 31.
Should Rooney receive an offer that ticks all his boxes, then he is unlikely to wear a United shirt again.