Since the end of the last season, when Alex Ferguson revealed Wayne Rooney had handed in his second transfer request, Chelsea have been earmarked as his most likely destination in the event he actually leaves the club. The idea, as well the rumours, persisted very slowly and quietly until yesterday, when a news story broke that Manchester United had rejected an offer from Chelsea for Rooney. The bid was later confirmed by Jose Mourinho.
In my opinion, of the three interested parties, the most interesting aspects of this saga come from considering the viewpoints of the player himself, rather than either of the two clubs. The first pertinent question I think needs answering, in order to understand Rooney’s desire to leave United, is what will be the nature of the legacy he leaves behind? There’s no denying he’s been an incredible player for the club; rewind nine years and I doubt a single fan wouldn’t still want him signed from Everton. Barring only a very small number of patches where his form was poor, for the most part he has been a source of outstanding consistency for the club and a serious contributor to all of the success enjoyed (and trophies won) during his time at Old Trafford.
And yet, rightly or wrongly, if he leaves this summer there will be a lot of regret and disappointment surrounding his legacy in Manchester. I’ve read enough on the United fan pages and blogs (which are shit compared to ours by the way) that the mood regarding Rooney has seriously soured to the point where many are actively anticipating his departure. There exists some profound bitterness and annoyance over how his career has been allowed to steadily fizzle out, as the last few years have seen him markedly decline from being a world class player, to just a very good one.
The blame however, in my opinion should lie almost exclusively with the management of the club. After those exceptional first few teenage seasons, Rooney was made to spend what were most likely the best years of his career playing a periphery role to Cristiano Ronaldo, often out of position on the wings. And then, when the Portuguese was sold to Real Madrid and Rooney once again began to flourish as the key player in the side, the role was taken from him once again last summer, despite having scored 34 in 44 games (for the second time in three seasons) as Utd spent £40m on Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa, affectively leaving him without a defined position for the entire campaign.
In short, Rooney is clearly a player that “needs to be needed”. A trait that manifests itself in his scoring statistics as his two greatest goals totals since 2006 both came in the two seasons in the last seven years where United didn’t win the Premier League, and he was needed more than ever to help catch ourselves (in 2010) and Man City (in 2012). David Moyes’ comments regarding needing Rooney should something happen to Van Persie have definitely been misconstrued somewhat, but the player will surely feel that the implication is there and the manager sees him as back up for younger/better players. For this reason, I think as long as he stays at the club, he will continue to decline in fitness, form and stature until his Manchester United legacy is all but ruined, and for a 27 year old as talented as Rooney, that’s a dim prospect to be facing.
Why Chelsea? Well, firstly we won’t be put off by the wages he may demand but secondly and more importantly, as Mourinho pointed out yesterday, what he’s looking for isn’t more money or more trophies but somewhere he can be happy and feel ‘needed’. And under the master man manager Jose Mourinho, in a side where he can play his favourite #9 position, behind a forward line filled with the some of the most creative, hard working and selfless midfielders in Europe, it isn’t hard to understand the appeal. Mourinho’s deliberate revelation that Rooney is currently the club’s only transfer target emphasises I think his willingness to show the player that Chelsea ‘needs’ him. Jose’s frankness also suggests he’s confident he can get Rooney back to his best, maybe even fulfil that incredible potential he showed as a teenager.
But why specifically would Chelsea be after Rooney? Well I think it’s a pretty obvious indication Jose isn’t prepared to go into a season with Fernando Torres as his main striker. Demba Ba has always felt like a stop gap who may even depart this summer, whilst Romelu Lukaku is still extremely young. With Falcao and Cavani both having gone to the French leagues and with Lewandowski staying at Dortmund to run his contract down, Rooney is quite possibly the best available striker in Europe, either way he’s certainly the one with the greatest Premier League pedigree and experience. My only concern is a tactical one, over the player not being exactly the sort of striker Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 system needs. Rooney likes to play as a striker but also enjoys dropping deeper, and with three such attack minded midfielders behind him, all of whom prefer to use that space a typical #10 would use, there won’t be that space for him to use that he will have become accustomed to in an Alex Ferguson 4-4-1-1 set up.
One final question to look at is why United would be particularly reluctant to sell? The player clearly wishes to leave in no uncertain terms. With Van Persie, Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa, Moyes’ isn’t short on numbers or quality to fill just two regular positions. The money from the sale of Rooney could also help fund a move for a central midfielder or two (or three) – the area where they have so clearly needed to strengthen since 2008. With Scholes retiring once again, Darren Fletcher still seriously ill and with Anderson and Tom Cleverley both being consistently underwhelming last year, strengthening that position should be United’s primary if not only concern this summer, not worrying about holding to a Wayne Rooney who potentially could end up sulking his way through a season in an embarrassing utility role.
Ultimately, the situation is this: Chelsea want the player, the player wants to move and United don’t need him. I think Moyes must realise the situation is, if not untenable, then still totally inauspicious. The only the reason I can think of he’ll have for keeping Rooney is for commercial reasons or for fear of selling him to a rival. At the moment I don’t think United are intending to sell the player at all but this saga isn’t even nearly over and that’s for certain. There are a lot more twist and turns and a lot more bullshit stories to be written before we can seriously begin to contemplate Wayne Rooney as a Chelsea player. Moderate contemplation is all I would prescribe at the moment…