Thursday 17 August 2017

Desolate, baffled, betrayed

Ferguson uses powerful 6 minute 34 second speech to clear himself of blame for Rooney’s desire to leave Old Trafford

Alex Ferguson speaking at yesterday's press conference. Photo: PA
Alex Ferguson speaking at yesterday's press conference. Photo: PA

Ian Herbert

For a moment, it seemed that Alex Ferguson was about to read from the single sheet of paper which he pulled from his inside jacket pocket.

But the Manchester United manager has never tended to work from a script and, in any case, the message he had to impart was of more significance than that. The notes were dispensed with, about 15 seconds in.

After a period of retrenchment and alienation from the British press which has rendered the relationship almost entirely broken in the past few weeks, what followed was six minutes and 34 seconds of soliloquy like none other seen in this manager's 24 long years at Old Trafford.

He did not wait around to take questions at the end, though this was an occasion which did not demand them. His delivery, from the same conference room where an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney was first presented as a United player six years ago, was perhaps his most powerfully extraordinary display.

Desolate, baffled, betrayed: a little of all those emotions seemed to tumble out with his words and the power came from the absence of that biting sarcasm which tends to be his weapon of choice.

This was not just a cry from the heart. Ferguson, apparently resigned to Rooney's departure, now finds himself engaged in a struggle for the hearts of supporters who see another of the club's totemic players leaving, perhaps for less than the cost of the club's interest payments.

The manager's performance was a shrewd rebuttal of the suggestion which Rooney's representatives have allowed to take hold -- that he is somehow responsible for the break-down of this relationship. It is also an attempt to state that United have offered Rooney more than any English club would do and still find him ready to walk away.

On only one of the above counts does Ferguson find himself on firm ground. The relationship between player and manager has never been the reason why Rooney "wants away" as Ferguson described it, again and again, yesterday.

critical

The critical meeting between the player's agent, Paul Stretford, and United chief executive David Gill, at which Gill was told that the 24-year-old wanted out, was on August 14, long before Rooney's life and game began to descend into chaos and his relationship with Ferguson challenged.

It was not until September 14 that Rooney twisted his ankle on a wet Old Trafford pitch against Rangers, prompting the conflict which simmered to the surface last week. Ferguson said that the ankle injury rendered him unfit to play. Rooney said last Tuesday that there had never been a problem.

Ferguson's masterful positioning delivered himself to the high ground of an individual beyond Rooney's sniping, who now finds himself betrayed by a player whom he has come to see as a son.

"Since the minute he's come to the club, we've always been a harbour for him -- any time he has been in trouble, the advice we have given him, we have done nothing but help him," Ferguson said. "I was even prepared to give him financial advice, many times."

The Manchester United legend -- a mighty weapon -- was also drawn into service. "This is a club which bases all its history and loyalty and foundation of trust between player and manager and club and has for many years, before Alex Ferguson," the manager added. "Since the days of Sir Matt (Busby) that's what it's founded on. So Wayne has been the beneficiary of that help, just the same as Ryan (Giggs) and Paul Scholes and all the players. That's what we're there for."

Rooney's most powerful reason for hankering to leave, and one that his representatives might have been wise to reinforce -- rather than allow questions about the relationship with the manager take root -- is his sense that United's failure to invest in replacements for Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and others is about to leave them languishing behind.

Has he told the manager this? Perhaps, because Ferguson did address the issue. "Last year, we could have created history by becoming the first team to win the league four times in a row," he said. "That doesn't tell you this team is falling apart or anything like that, but that represents a challenge for us and the next step forward is to get back out there and get back our supremacy."

But it is when Ferguson suggests that United will reward Rooney more than any club in the country that the argument falters. "David Gill was prepared to offer the best terms offered to any player in this country," Ferguson said.

"We realise and recognise the quality of the player. That's why negotiations were started early on in the summer, two years before his contract was up, to extend that contract."

But even the 100pc increase in salary which Rooney's representatives now seek will take him to £40,000 a week less than Manchester City's Yaya Toure. This is one piece of high ground to which United are not willing to climb.

Our sympathy cannot be boundless for a manager who has flourished so long by parading a financial muscle to which lesser clubs -- including Everton, when Rooney left six years ago -- cannot hold a candle and possibly preparing, even now, to break Liverpool by taking away their own prime asset, Fernando Torres. But it was hard to dwell on contradictions as a masterpiece was wrapped up.

Now for Bursaspor, with tonight's match programme cover featuring Javier Hernandez with the words "The rise and rise of Chicarito". How Ferguson would love his soon-to-be prodigal son's successor to be anointed against Turkish opposition, just as Rooney himself was with a hat-trick against Fenerbahce in 2004. Hernandez is not Rooney, though. This time the manager needs his player to write the script. (© Independent News Service)

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