The Troubled Rooney-Ferguson Relationship

Sir Alex Ferguson remembers being summoned by Manchester United’s American owners, the Glazer family, the day after he had kicked club captain Roy Keane out of Old Trafford in 2005 following an increasingly acrimonious breakdown in their relationship. "I was a bit nervous as to what they might say. But when I spoke to them, all they said was they were surprised it had taken me so long," Ferguson admits to friends.

Ferguson has fought and seen off some of the biggest names in football during 25 memorable years at Manchester United - David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam and the iconic Keane. Now, on his 70th birthday, Ferguson is taking on his biggest current superstar, Wayne Rooney, unceremoniously dropping the England striker for the game against Blackburn Rovers despite United already being without nine other injured international players.

The reason? Apparently that Rooney and his wife, Coleen, went out for a Boxing Day meal with team-mates Darren Gibson and Johnny Evans and their partners after a 5-0 home win against Wigan. It has bemused and angered Rooney, who has also been hit with a six-figure fine. Ferguson said in a television interview before the game that Rooney was suffering from ‘little strains’, adding: "Wayne has not trained well this week. He missed a few days but hopefully he will train on Sunday."

But the revelation that Rooney was axed as a result of his Boxing Day dinner provides absolute proof that, far from being mellowed by time, Ferguson is more determined than ever to run things his way. And with Sir Alex announcing that he believes he can serve United for another three years, which would take him past Sir Bobby Robson to become the oldest manager in Premier League history, Rooney will know that there can be only one winner if he takes on the boss.

While Rooney may rage against the control exerted by his manager, most fans will view the 36 trophies in 25 glittering years at Old Trafford and say Ferguson deserves to run the club how he wants. Rooney, fuming silently in a private box at Old Trafford while his team-mates toiled in a 3-2 defeat, sensibly did not send out as much as a single tweet to irritate his manager further. But this bust-up could prove to be the biggest and most combustible fight of Ferguson’s career.

If there is no thaw in the coming months, one may have to go in the summer and the smart money would be on Rooney, rather than Ferguson. History is on the manager’s side.

Beckham was the most popular sportsman in the world and a commercial godsend to United at the time of his falling-out with Ferguson in 2003, when the England captain was accidentally struck in the face by a flying boot kicked in anger by Ferguson. But it was the manager, not Beckham, who won. He simply packed Beckham off to Real Madrid and made sure there was a new No 7, Cristiano Ronaldo, waiting in the wings, who would ultimately prove as valuable a player as Beckham and almost as marketable across the globe.

When Stam and Van Nistelrooy were booted out by Ferguson, Stam leaving after claiming the United manager had tapped him up in his autobiography, United were secure that they could compete financially for top-class replacements, such as Rio Ferdinand and Rooney.

For many years, Keane was worth the high maintenance because of his prowess as the country’s top midfielder. But once his legs had gone, he was no longer forgiven his outspoken and demoralising comments against younger team-mates, one famous interview being pulled by the club’s in-house television station, MUTV, for being too derogatory.

Now Ferguson is clashing with Rooney - and the stakes are high. There are few players in the world who could replace the 26-year-old, either on the pitch or in marketing terms. Even if United were to get £40million for Rooney, the money would all have to be invested in a new talisman, possibly Gareth Bale or luring Ronaldo back from Madrid. The troubled Rooney-Ferguson relationship has been bubbling under since the start of last season when Rooney, in an incredible act of brinkmanship, flirted with Manchester City with a transfer request until United gave him a new contract worth £200,000 a week.

Upsetting to the other United players was Rooney’s argument that he did not know if the current squad was good enough. The England striker’s downbeat demeanour since United were knocked out of the Champions League by Basle this season suggests he has not really changed his mind. Ironically, it may be a concern Ferguson shares. In his birthday statement about staying at Old Trafford, there was an important proviso: "We have to continue the dominance of winning leagues and, without question, winning a European Cup is important at this club."

Ferguson admired Rooney’s aggression, zeal and energy when he signed him as an 18-year-old from Everton, taking him from the working class streets of Croxteth in Liverpool to a mansion in Cheshire. He forgave him a litany of indiscretions; smoking, boozing, gambling, womanising. But once Rooney felt he was big enough and old enough to threaten Ferguson’s control, a major fall-out was inevitable.

Ferguson did not like having to persuade Rooney to sign a new deal last season. He will not have forgotten that. United need time for young players such as Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones to be ready to take on the best. Rooney is notoriously impatient. But anyone who thinks the striker is bulletproof, particularly in a stand-off with Sir Alex Ferguson, can forget it.

Source: Associated Press, ESPN, Sky Sports

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