"How many times do I have to say SORRY"
While all the talk before the United-Rangers game centred on speculation regarding the type of reception Wayne Rooney would get, was I the only one to doff my imaginary hat at the way Sir Alex Ferguson has dealt with this situation from start to finish? When Sir Alex persuaded the Glazers to put their hands deep into their moth-infested (and possibly empty) pockets to keep Rooney at Old Trafford, I would imagine he sold it to them thus: “I want him to rot in the reserves for his insolence if I’m to tell the truth. But I tell you what we’ll do. Offer him what Stretford wants. Give him the £250k a week. Give him a get-out clause.”
Then (as Bryan Glazer sprays out beef jerky/hot dog/a lazy American stereotype all over his brother Joel’s shiny bald pate): “Hear me out. If we get anything approaching the form he showed up until April then brilliant. We’ll win the league. If we don’t, we can flog him at any point for at least £40m (£60m if City want him) and we are laughing because he can’t walk out for peanuts with all these years on his contract. Either way, his signature is win-win for Manchester United.”
A second goal of the season – again from the penalty spot – provided the catalyst for the partial hailing of Rooney’s redemption. But it is going to take much more than one 87th minute winner in more or less a dead rubber tie for Rooney to undergo his own Saul/Saint Paul transformation. Prior to kick off at Ibrox, a pre-recorded interview aired on ITV offered Rooney the opportunity to speak to his public and draw a line under his sorry contract saga. Stopping short of actually saying “sorry”, he did do a very good job of looking earnest as he muttered that his actions had “nothing to do with money”. Fair enough, but what was he going to say? “I got a fuck-off payrise and then they paid for me to go on holiday. Job’s a good un.”
Ferguson could not have underlined the fact that he, and only he, is the main man at United any clearer than his choice of match to welcome back the fallen star. He rested Patrice Evra. He rested Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. “These players are more important to my club than you right now Wayne,” the move suggested. By bringing Rooney back for a game United didn’t even have to win, Sir Alex could have been forgiven for displaying a wry smile at the devilishness of it all. “I’ve won this one you cocky little shit. And you won’t forget that any time soon will you.”
Rooney’s biggest job now is to build trust on the pitch. Lung-busting commitment will be required in the coming weeks if he is to win back the United faithful and a player as good as Rooney won’t be off-form forever. But it is Sir Alex alone who has come out of the past few weeks with any dignity. He spoke from the heart last week about the hurt Rooney’s insubordination had caused, but he also let it be known in no uncertain terms that no player will ever be bigger than Manchester United.
For now at least, United are joint top of the Premier League and have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League with negligable input from Wayne Rooney. United fans have his teammates, who it appears Rooney does not rate too highly, to thank for these achievements. Rooney would do himself and his club a favour by dropping the hubris of recent times – “I feel like I have apologised to the fans, but everyone keeps saying that I haven't and, if that is the case, then I apologise for my side of things” (fucking hell Wayne, the papers and your own manager have only been banging on about this for nigh on a month) – keeping his head down and using the example of former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo as motivation. Returning from the World Cup in 2006 as public enemy number one, Ronaldo put up with endless abuse at the hands of opposing fans to become one of the world’s best players. Rooney now must put the drama behind him and put hard yards in to earn his redemption. Sir Alex will demand nothing less.