Gary Neville was right when he insisted there is nowhere for the striker to go after Old Trafford but even ahead of his imminent retirement Sir Alex Ferguson remains in control
By Oliver Platt
Wayne Rooney was smiling as he collected his fifth Premier League winners' medal, shook the hand of his soon-to-be-former manager and took his place on the champions' podium. There was no hug for Sir Alex Ferguson, but it could not be argued that the striker's body language - even as his name was met with jeers - gave the impression he was unhappy with life at Manchester United.
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Normally, you would expect there to be much more to it than that. World-renowned players do not hand in transfer requests at the biggest clubs on the planet because of a couple of substitutions. Rooney, though, has a history of impulsiveness; on the pitch, it has defined his style of play and off the field it was evidenced more markedly than ever when he dropped a wholly unexpected transfer bombshell.
Three days after Sir Alex had informed the media of Rooney's decision in October 2010, the England international had signed a new five-year contract. The manager's treatment of this particular player has been distinct from the norm; in his 26-year reign Ferguson has never feared selling a player. He has moved on more important members of the squad than Rooney before.
Dwight Yorke, Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy were all shown the door after discord emerged; Cristiano Ronaldo's wish to join Real Madrid was granted despite the fact that he was virtually irreplaceable as an individual. United live on, and usually thrive.
The handling of Rooney has not matched the usual pattern. The club issued a statement insisting that he would not be sold and while that might have seemed an obvious tactic to keep his transfer value afloat, you believe it when it comes from Sir Alex's mouth. They think his mind can be changed, and perhaps that he is prone to acting rashly when things are not going his way. United have dismissed the possibility of a sale not because they cannot do without Rooney, but because they know this is something the man who remains on course to become their all-time top goalscorer before his 30th birthday should seriously reconsider.
It would be entirely understandable if Rooney wished to experience a different country or a different league while still in his prime; indeed, not enough English players test themselves overseas.
Some of the reports that emerged before the official confirmation of the transfer request suggested Rooney was seeking a move to Bayern Munich. He cannot engineer a transfer to a club of his choice, though, and Munich seems an unlikely destination. The defensive game that is demanded even of strikers at the top of the European game nowadays and especially at Bayern - Mario Mandzukic does an excellent job in this regard - has long been a weakness for Rooney and there is no chance of him wresting the No.10 role away from Toni Kroos.
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"He just needs to get away, come away with England over the next couple of weeks, play for England, have a summer off, and hopefully he'll get his head back to being a Manchester United player because there's nowhere else to go from here."
Ferguson, of course, stole the show as he waved goodbye to his home of 26 seasons but Rooney might also have noticed the conduct of Paul Scholes as he said a very quiet farewell for a second and final time. Scholes has never been one for the limelight - he joked himself that he had picked the perfect week to hang up his boots given Ferguson and Rooney's duopoly of the headlines.
Underneath it all, though, Scholes can look back on his career as a one-club man with some contentment. He has won everything at United, is adored by the club's supporters and has received almost unanimous acclaim from admiring players and coaches worldwide. Old Trafford tends to reward you like that.