Rooney set for Old Trafford exit

United’s reaction to Sunday morning’s newspaper suggestions that
Rooney could be on his way was swift. “To suggest Wayne Rooney will
be sold in January is nonsense,” said a club spokesman. But Red
Devils officials are understood to have been informed that Rooney
will not sign a new contract, and therefore may have little option
other than to cash in on their most valuable asset. There has been
plenty of speculation about Sir Alex Ferguson’s relationship with
his star striker since stories about the 24-year-old’s private life
first surfaced at the beginning of last month. Rooney appeared to
make a direct challenge to Ferguson’s authority on Tuesday after
England’s Euro 2012 qualifier with Montenegro, when he went out of
his way to contradict the Scot’s claim that he has been suffering
from an ankle injury. Ferguson has so far avoided any meaningful
public discussion about Rooney’s situation but appeared to deliver
his own verdict when he left the forward out of his starting
line-up for Saturday’s Premier League encounter with West Brom,
then brought him on as a substitute with 19 minutes remaining and
told him to play on the left wing. Although it was interpreted as
the final straw by some, Rooney’s relationship with Ferguson soured
some time ago. Talks over a new contract have stalled and there is
no intention from the player’s side to re-open negotiations. It
will come as a shock to many observers to discover the extent and
speed of the breakdown, given it was only last season that Rooney
scored 34 goals for his club. Even though Rooney’s form this season
has been well below his normal high standards – his only goal,
against West Ham in August, came from the penalty spot – he remains
a crowd favourite. United do have the option of sitting tight and
hoping for a thaw in relations. However, they are acutely aware
Rooney’s value will plummet if he does not leave in January and 12
months after that he would be free to sign pre-contract terms with
any club on the continent, and leave on a Bosman free transfer in
the summer of 2012. The Glazer family are unlikely to be keen on
that idea, which is why the prospect of Rooney leaving midway
through the current campaign has taken hold. Although there are
plenty of examples that can be used of United prospering after
releasing top players – Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ruud van
Nistelrooy are obvious examples – with Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes,
Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville all approaching the end of their
careers, it would certainly test the claim of chief executive David
Gill that Ferguson has a sizeable transfer budget at his disposal
despite the club’s massive debts. With most managers in their late
60s, questions would also be asked about the desire to rebuild
another team. Yet for Ferguson, it is the type of challenge he
relishes and few doubt he is capable of keeping United competitive
at the highest level providing he is given sufficient funds. If
there is an acceptance that Rooney is leaving, Gill will
concentrate on getting the highest possible fee, having succeeded
in prizing a world record £80million out of Real Madrid for
Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. Real would doubtless be interested
in Rooney, although the same could be said for virtually every top
side in Europe, including Manchester City, which would be an
unpalatable thought to the Old Trafford faithful. There has been
some speculation about United interest in Fernando Torres, whose
form dip at Liverpool mirrors that of Rooney 35 miles down the East
Lancashire Road. In the meantime, Dimitar Berbatov, Javier
Hernandez and Michael Owen – who missed yesterday’s game with a
groin injury – will be asked to shoulder the burden, with Ferguson
to decide what role Rooney is to play given his stated position.
The United boss is due to address the media on Tuesday, prior to
his side’s Champions League encounter with Bursaspor at Old
Trafford, which should be fascinating. In the meantime, the Red
Devils need to try and pick themselves up from the loss of another
two goal lead – and another two points – yesterday that keeps them
five points adrift of champions Chelsea. “We need to be more
angry,” said defender Patrice Evra, whose unfortunate own goal
sparked the Baggies recovery after they had fallen behind to
first-half strikes from Javier Hernandez and Nani. United’s victory
hopes disappeared due to a rare mistake from Edwin van der Sar. He
dropped Chris Brunt’s steepling cross allowing Somen Tchoyi to tap
home as the hosts surrendered a two-goal lead for the third time
this season. Evra said: “For this to happen once (at Everton) is
OK. Then I did the same interview after the Liverpool match and
said I hope we never do it again. But we have done. “We have two
choices – either we accept it or we don’t. “We have to show the
correct face of Manchester United. We have to show character and