Rooney’s contract quandary lingers

How to calculate the worth of Wayne Rooney to Manchester United? It’s quite the conundrum, and the beauty of it, as far as the player is concerned, is that he can just keep playing while others keep totting up his value.

Rooney’s status at his club is unmistakably high these days. Consider his input in the last few games: man of the match in inspiring a victory over Arsenal; scorer of one of the goals in Cardiff; dazzling at Bayer Leverkusen as the creator of four of United’s five strikes; main man once again at Tottenham with the goals to drag his team back into the game twice at White Hart Lane. Hardly bears thinking about where they would be without him.

After a summer that started so negatively when Sir Alex Ferguson left him out of his farewell match at Old Trafford because United’s number 10 had made noises about leaving, and the not-so-subtle stance that stewed through most of the summer market, the Rooney question was the trickiest problem for the incoming David Moyes to solve.

Coming into December, with Rooney in fantastic form, that appears to be the last thing Moyes has to worry about. On the surface that puzzle has been handled very effectively. But beneath the surface, the contract quandary lingers. Come the end of the season Rooney will have just one year left on his current deal.

If no improved terms are rubber stamped soon, United face the possibility that the player may choose to let his contract run down and take his pick of the clubs who will fall over themselves to sign a player of his caliber, who is still under the age of 30, for free. Of course, he may prefer to stay, but considering he is the man calling the shots off the field as well as hammering them in on it, it is United that have to sweat until he makes his next business move.

Moyes has done his bit by making sure the bridges were built to get him back in the fold and re-invigorated after a complex summer. Now Ed Woodward, United’s Chief Executive, has to make his own impression on the club by sorting out the next stage of the Rooney situation. The maiden transfer window for Moyes and Woodward had all the impact of a damp dishcloth. If they can collectively sort out Rooney’s long term future that will give them more leverage for the future.

Recently, Woodward told the United We Stand fanzine that keeping Rooney when he was dissatisfied over the summer was a "unique" situation. "It was important that we made our position very clear," he added. "I am delighted he is still wearing red. He is irreplaceable and phenomenal to watch."

Rooney and his advisors hold all the cards. They have played the game with United once before and come out of it with their pockets bulging thanks to a fat new contract. Three years ago he handed in a transfer request, to the astonishment of Ferguson. In an autobiography two years later Rooney described it as "the greatest miskate of my football career." Oddly, though, it wasn’t enough of a mistake to prevent him from making similarly unsettling noises again just before Ferguson’s retirement.

There are some who can’t find it in themselves to instantly fall back in love with someone who has been flirting elsewhere, but the moral and emotional debates tend to be forgotten once high-quality performances are delivered. Considering the way Rooney is playing — with trademark zeal and effort embellished with a knack for goals — the emphasis once again is on United to implore Rooney to extend the relationship.

The team stand eight in the Premier League table, and nine points off the lead. Moyes quite reasonably described that as a "concern." But United would be considerably worse off without his contributions. They know it. He knows it. The contract timebomb continues to tick.