By Jonathan Birchall
David Moyes will this week come face to face with Wayne Rooney for the first time in nearly a month as the pair prepare for crunch talks over the forward’s Manchester United future.
Rooney, who has been in rehabilitation at the club’s Carrington training base following a hamstring injury sustained two days into United’s pre-season tour of Asia and Australia, has agreed in principle to join Chelsea for £200,000-a-week. Moyes, however, insists that the 27-year-old is not for sale under any circumstances and the Premier League champions have dismissed an offer of £20 million from the Stamford Bridge outfit.
Now, the pair will sit down for talks this week. Moyes is set to reiterate that he wants the England star to remain a United player, while Rooney remains intent on leaving.
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They must also assess and decide whether the striker can travel with the squad ahead of the club’s next pre-season friendly in Stockholm on August 6. Despite the propaganda frenzy, it is not yet certain whether Rooney can or will travel.
Despite reports to the contrary, though, the pair's relationship is cordial. They may not have met in person since July 11 due to the club’s exhaustive tour of Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, but they have spoken over telephone, in conversations that were described as “amicable” by club sources. Moyes took the opportunity to clarify quotes to the press in which he described the striker as a “back-up” to Robin van Persie, insisting to Rooney that those quotes were taken out of context and that he remains a key member of his squad.
Yet Rooney, despite appreciating his manager’s gesture of goodwill after having made it known that Moyes had left him “angry and confused”, has maintained that he wants to leave following a season in which his relationship broke down with Sir Alex Ferguson and the United hierarchy.
Moyes, meanwhile, has been on the charm offensive. He has peppered the “brilliant, outstanding, exceptional” Rooney with compliments to the press throughout the club's pre-season tour.
It is rank politicking. While Rooney has trained and recovered largely alone over the past three weeks, friendly but distant with Carrington staff, Moyes and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward have privately discussed his exit from the club.
Some at Carrington believe his best days are gone for good. The club simply do not want to offer him a long-term contract.
However, despite an intense and rather ugly spout of media briefings from United, Chelsea and Rooney’s camp a fortnight ago, the latest line from Manchester and west London is the same. No news. No bids. Deadlock as it stands, with a saga running until the very last throes of the transfer window appearing ever more likely.
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A complicated and drawn out game is developing. Chelsea know they must pay more than their most recent offer of £20m and are willing to do so to facilitate a move, but have been left waiting on United and Rooney’s camp themselves. The forward asked England colleagues Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole about Mourinho, while admitting to friends that he will have to submit a transfer request to secure a move. He, like Chelsea, is open to the idea but has been told to stay patient by agent Paul Stretford, who remains wary of his client’s public reputation – already sullied in the eyes of many United fans.
Moyes knows that Rooney cannot be sold without at least one major transfer arriving at Old Trafford beforehand. Having missed out on Thiago Alcantara and with their pursuit of Cesc Fabregas growing increasingly futile, United’s great hopes this summer, publicly paraded, risk proving both unsuccessful and even embarrassing. The former Everton boss is keen on bringing both Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines to United, but such is the new regime’s desire to make a statement of intent that the big, Hollywood names continue to be linked. Moyes’ admission that the Fabregas chase could soon be over was used to temper the fans’ great expectations.
And yet despite the stalled rhetoric and glacially-paced game of tit-for-tat, one man perseveres in driving a potential move: Jose Mourinho.
The new Chelsea boss has made clear to the Stamford Bridge hierarchy, including owner Roman Abramovich, that Rooney is his number-one target this summer. Behind the scenes, the self-proclaimed Special One is pulling out all the stops to bring the forward to west London.
Mourinho feels that Rooney’s pace and power would enable him to fit neatly into the sit-and-sting 4-2-3-1 approach that brought him so much success in seasons past. Flanked by the likes of Oscar and Eden Hazard; the United man would be the focal point of the Portuguese’s new Chelsea side.
The financial and political significance of Rooney at Old Trafford in an unprecedented summer of transition for the Premier League has created a perfect storm from which all parties could benefit; Rooney wants out, United are open to selling and Chelsea will pay the asking price. But it is a storm that all parties are looking to weather their own way. Moyes and the forward’s meeting this week is the next step in the process. Mourinho will sit, wait and see if either man blinks.
The multi-million pound game of chess is well under way.