Lucrative contract or not, Rooney's United daysmay well be numbered
Wayne Rooney returns to Manchester today following his week-long 'refocusing' trip to the US with next Saturday's Old Trafford clash against Wigan earmarked as the forward's first match since his divisive contract stand-off with the club.
Now fit and fully recovered from the ankle injury that has kept him out since October 16, Rooney is ready to start earning the £160,000-a-week salary that he prised out of United, having threatened to take his talents elsewhere.
"Wayne has been doing really well," said assistant manager Mike Phelan. "He has been training really hard, working morning and afternoon. Our people out there who are looking after him have been really pleased with his attitude and approach. All being well, he can have a nice easy flight. We will see where he is at on Monday but we think he will have improved immensely."
Wigan's visit next week is likely to be page one of the new chapter.
But how long he will remain at Old Trafford to collect his weekly six-figure pay cheque has become the elephant in the room in the red half of Manchester.
Both within and outside the club, there is a growing perception that Alex Ferguson's achievement in persuading Rooney to sign his five-year contract has done little other than shift the balance of power back in United's, and Ferguson's, direction. From fearing that Rooney could be tempted away for a knock-down price next summer, when his value would have plunged due to him having only 12 months to run on his old deal, United can now name their price.
And while his £70,000-a-week pay-rise will cost United another £2.4m in wages between Rooney signing the deal on October 22 and next June, that figure is merely a smart insurance premium that could, if United were to sell him, mean they bank £40m from his sale rather than £15-20m.
Rooney's decision to stay has been greeted with apathy and scepticism by the majority of the club's supporters and his recent absences have been bemusing.
His week-long trip to Dubai with wife Coleen was swiftly followed a week later by his posting to Nike HQ in Portland, with United claiming that the 25-year-old would benefit from a "change of scenery".
Since his contract stand-off, which Ferguson admitted had "hurt" the club, Rooney has barely crossed paths with those team-mates who publicly rejected his concerns over United's ambition and strength of squad.
Two weeks out of the country, combined with United's trip to Turkey for last week's Champions League clash with Bursaspor, have ensured little contact with his fellow players. Next week, many will be away from Carrington on international duty.
But central to the doubts over Rooney's long-term future at the club is Ferguson.
History shows that the Scot is prepared to dispense with the biggest names, but only when it suits him and the club.
Paul Ince, David Beckham, Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy -- whose demeanour and attitude infuriated Ferguson for a year before the manager felt he could dispense with his services -- have all been shipped out on Ferguson's terms.
Rooney will be given the opportunity to banish the doubts over his United future, but he has now lost any control he had over the situation. Recent results without Rooney will also influence Ferguson's thinking. Since a Paul Scholes challenge in training, at the height of the contract stand-off, propelled Rooney on to the sidelines, United have won six and drawn one of their seven games.
In that time, they have scored 13 goals and Javier Hernandez has hit three of them to take his tally this season to six. Rooney has contributed just one goal -- from the penalty spot.
Against Manchester City in midweek, United's inability to break down Roberto Mancini's team highlighted the missing X-factor that a fit and focused Rooney would provide. But that Rooney has been conspicuous by his absence for over six months now.
If he does not resurface over the next six months, his days at Old Trafford will be numbered. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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