Saturday, February 22, 2014

Rooney's Contract Is A Statement - But Of What?

Wayne Rooney has signed a new four-year contract with Manchester United, reportedly worth 300,000 pounds a week, which will extend his stay at the club till he's 6 months shy of his 33rd birthday. Upon retirement, he'll remain as club ambassador. The deal has been hailed by the media as a "statement of intent" from Moyes.

It's a statement of something, alright, but I'm not sure "intent" is the word I would have used. More like "desperation", to me.

Let's get this out of the way: like many fans, my personal feelings for Rooney have dimmed after the revelations that he wanted to leave twice. Perhaps one of the saddest things about this current Manchester United side is that it contains so few players who deserve the adulation that we, the fans, proffer so willingly on a weekly basis. But I respect the fact that footballers are professionals, who deserve to bargain for wages and alternate employment, despite it rubbing fans the wrong way. Managers and clubs treat players like commodities, and they in turn respond by seeing their contracts as a professional relationship. Not pretty, but fair enough.

In addition, Rooney has been excellent this season. His poor form last season had much to do with consistently being played out of position (and in a variety of positions) by Fergie. He's a known quantity, and avoids the transfer wrangling for a replacement in the summer, which is a relief, given the decidedly mixed history of those attempts. And finally, it avoids sending the signal that the rats are deserting a sinking ship.

But all of this at what price? 300k a week is a truly staggering figure. As good as Rooney has been this season, he hasn't merited that sort of lucre. Who else would pay him that money? Chelsea have made it clear that they'd pursue him (though frankly, I wouldn't put it past Mourinho to make those statement just to unsettle the player). But I find it hard to believe that Rooney would merit the same wage packet as Cavani and Falcao - or Suarez, for that matter, who despite his odious actions on the pitch, remains one of the most thrilling forwards in the world.

Nor does he deserve to be the clear exception to the club's policy of only offering one-year contracts to players over 30. It's a shocking move, especially considering Rooney's history of weight & fitness issues. Treat him right, by all means, but don't treat him special. Again, offering to make him a "club ambassador" is both silly and insulting. Rooney should earn that respect - as he's done this season - rather than being assured of it.

The club's propaganda machine, unsurprisingly churned out this gem:

Should we be thrilled that he's decided to stay? Pleased, perhaps, excluding the cost, but it might be a bit much to expect fans to be doing Jiminy Cricket dances. 

So what does this all say about the state of the club? First, there is a desperation to stabilize the ship at any cost. Second, the economics of running this club just got a lot worse, as I posted previously. And third, the job of managing this squad just became even harder when one player has been so obviously singled out for special treatment and virtually assured a position of primacy. I am very skeptical that Moyes is the right man for the job, but if he's still here in 3 years, he's going to have to manage a powerful and divisive figure in the dressing room who will likely be in athletic decline. Unveiling this contract, Moyes said, "I want to bring more Wayne Rooneys to Manchester United." That, I fear, would be the worst possible thing for the club.

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