By Greg Stobart
Sir Alex Ferguson used to follow the simple rule that no player is ever bigger than the club - and Manchester United should take their former boss' lead as the next Wayne Rooney saga threatens to unfold.
Goal revealed on Friday that Rooney had refused to open talks over a new United contract - his current deal expires in 2014 - before we reported on Friday that Arsenal have been encouraged to bid for the striker.
Rooney has been in outstanding form this season but how much longer can he be allowed to take United for a ride?
Ed Woodward and David Moyes made their point in the summer by refusing to sell the 27-year-old to Chelsea but now they must start planning for the star's departure.
|ROONEY'S SEASON SO FAR
In the long term, they would be better off without him and the increasingly disruptive influence of his agent, Paul Stretford, a former vacuum cleaner salesman whose relationship with United is strained, to say the least.
Rooney is eager for a new challenge at an established Champions League club and his ego requires that he is afforded the status of the team's principal centre forward, having played second fiddle to Robin van Persie since the Dutchman's arrival in 2012.
Stretford, for his part, wants his own payday and Jose Mourinho strongly suggested that the agent had been in touch with Chelsea over the summer to encourage the Londoners to bid for his client.
Rooney has scored five goals in seven appearances this season and his outstanding form prompted United's attempts to engage in contract talks, with 18 months left on his £250,000-a-week (€295,000) deal, but they should now stop indulging both Rooney and Stretford and move on. Roy Keane, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and many others have left United in the past and the Premier League titles kept rolling in.
Whether it is in January or next summer, United will be better off without Rooney and his baggage.
Ferguson was fed up of the forward's lack of professionalism and believed that the former Everton man only had a couple of years left at the top, in any case.
The Scot made his fare share of big calls during 26 years in charge at Old Trafford and very few were wrong. United should follow his example, forget about offering Rooney a new contract and cut their losses as soon as possible.
BALE PLAYING CATCH-UP AT MADRID
Gareth Bale took a leaf out of Luka Modric's book in the summer by refusing to take part in Tottenham's pre-season in order to force through a transfer to Real Madrid.
Like the Croatia international, the 24-year-old got his wish but the consequence is that he has been unprepared for the season, playing just 132 minutes of action so far for his new club and struggling with thigh and chronic back injuries.
Modric, too, effectively went on strike to force his move to Madrid in 2012 and, by the end of the year, was being voted the worst signing of the year by Spanish football fans.
The 28-year-old playmaker has subsequently settled at the Santiago Bernabeu and become a regular starter for the club, but the enormity of Bale's price tag means that he may not be afforded the same patience by supporters.
The Welshman's lack of pre-season means that he has been playing catch-up from the minute that he pulled on a Madrid shirt, when he was rushed into his goalscoring debut against Villarreal in September.
Los Blancos released a statement in response to reports in Marca about the forward's back troubles, denying that he could require surgery, but the fact that they are already being so defensive about the Galactico signing highlights the fact that Bale is playing catch-up - both in terms of his fitness and his public relations perception.
HODGSON FACES CRUNCH QUALIFIER
The warnings to Roy Hodgson have been fired from multiple angles in the last week or so, but most pertinent would be the words of former England manager Graham Taylor.
|CRUNCH TIME: ENGLAND v POLAND
|PREVIEW: Victory would guarantee Three Lions a place in next summer's World Cup|
"If England win it's thanks to the players; if they don't it's the manager's fault," reflected Taylor last week. "I knew that so there was nothing for me to do but take responsibility and resign. If he doesn't qualify, Roy will have to handle a lot of stuff coming in his direction. What I experienced taught me a lot about life and human nature."
As England prepare for their must-win final World Cup qualifier against Poland at Wembley on Tuesday, Hodgson's own future is on the line. His job and his reputation now rest on this one game.
It has been a long slog of a campaign, stretching from Chisinau to Podgorica to Warsaw and it took until the penultimate game - Friday's thumping 4-1 win over Montenegro - for England to produce a performance of any note and to beat a team of any quality.
Yet they are nearly over the line and will surely finish the job if they can produce a performance of similar cohesiveness, balance and attacking ambition in front of 90,000 people - including the best part of 20,000 Poles - at Wembley.
For once, the English public seem to have found the happy medium between despair and wild optimism when it comes to the national side.
England are comfortably good enough to play at the World Cup; they are far from good enough to win it. The new FA chairman, Greg Dyke, has made it evident that no-one within the governing body expect anything better than a quarter-final exit in Brazil next summer.
But England have to be there. The consequence for Hodgson should they fail would surely be the loss of his job.
The manager answered his critics in style with his bold, ambitious team selection against Montenegro and Andros Townsend represents the effervescent, fearless breed of attacking players coming through at international level.
If the 66-year-old can get it right again, he can forget about the Graham Taylor treatment, banish the pre-match talk about 1973 and 1993, and re-align expectations of the England team.
EUROPEAN SUPER LEAGUE SET TO FALL FLAT
The buzz at the Leaders in Football conference last week was all about a potential European super league after Galatasaray chairman Unal Aysal claimed that the concept will become a reality in the next five years.
Really, though, this is just a pipe dream. The European Club Association will renew its understanding with Uefa after the current memorandum expires in 2018 - and why not?
While clubs like Galatasaray are upset over the distribution of television money, it is 15 years too late for a super league. The Champions League is too big and too successful to now mess with the system.
What the clubs - and Uefa - should really be looking at is improving the attraction and quality of the Europa League, possibly through redistribution of Champions League cash.
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