Moyes holding all the aces in showdown with Rooney
How new boss handles his first big test in dealing with disenchanted striker may shape future at Old Trafford helm, writes Jim White
Published 04/07/2013 | 05:00
In his first week at Manchester United, David Moyes has been arriving for work early.
Since Monday, he has been photographed at 8.0 driving through the gates of United's Carrington training base.
There is a lot to do, confronted as he will be by a tottering Himalaya of paperwork, an entire back-room staff to embed, not to mention that meet and greet with the club's latest commercial partners, Bulgaria's leading budgerigar cage distributors.
But the real work begins today, when the players report for pre-season training.
Now, in a series of face-to-face meetings, Moyes will be obliged to address by far the most pressing item in his in-tray. And how he handles the issue will set the tone for his first few months in charge.
The new manager will have to decide what to do about Wayne Rooney (right). Get this right and he will establish his authority immediately; get it wrong and it will damage his credibility almost before he has begun.
Rooney's representatives appear to be approaching these latest contract negotiations intent on adopting the same scorched earth tactics they employed last time they were looking for an increase in the autumn of 2010.
Back then it was said the newly enriched Manchester City were prepared to offer a large proportion of Abu Dhabi's oil revenues to secure the striker's services.
Even though it was entirely a financial deal that was being beaten out, some honeyed words were added to the sauce about ambition and a lack of investment in the United team, just to give the impression that this was not all about money.
And it worked. Rooney emerged with the largest contract in United's history.
This time, the approach has been exactly the same. According to the silly season headlines, the suitors are legion.
Here is Neymar saying how much he would like to see Rooney in Barcelona, there is Jack Wilshere insisting the Arsenal players would love it if he signed, and here is the revival of the old tale that Roman Abramovich has long coveted the player and would happily make him a 'welcome home' present for Jose Mourinho.
And again the motivation behind the threat to move is being dressed up as a tale not of greed but disappointment.
What Wayne wants is to be loved again, we are being told. He wants to have assurances of his position and his indispensability in big games written into his new agreement.
There is just one slight difference between October 2010 and July 2013: Rooney's form.
Such hardball negotiation requires the subject of the deal to be able to demonstrate he is worth the fuss.
In 2010, Rooney did just that. Then he did look central to the team's well-being. Such were his performances his representatives could risk sullying his wider reputation in the gamble that his goals would counter any negativity.
This time, it is not quite the same. Rooney has latterly looked like a player running on empty.
The theory that the boy who was a man at 15 is approaching middle age at 27 has gained traction throughout the season.
Alex Ferguson – that astute judge of when a player's peak has been passed – has not yet been proved wrong about his loss of patience in Rooney's fitness. United's No 10 may still be good, but no longer can he be reckoned crucial.
All of which means Moyes can safely take a position in any negotiations that would not have been open to him had United's future success been dependent on Rooney's continued presence.
He can look Paul Stretford, Rooney's agent, in the eye and say: "These are my terms. Take them or leave them. It would be great to have Wayne in my squad, but only on my conditions." And, if Stretford did not like them, well, there's the door.
If he were to negotiate like that, Moyes would have the backing of a large section of the United support, who have never forgotten Rooney's strategic flirtation with City in 2010.
They may have put it to the back of their minds as they celebrated the goals scored by the man satirical magazine 'Private Eye' calls the 'Spud-Faced Nipper'.
Now he is threatening to do it all again, however, they will look at his recent contribution, look at the swelling of his neck, the slowing of his pace and believe they could easily live without the man who will quickly be rebranded in the Old Trafford stands the 'Greedy Fat Scouser'.
There is very little reserve of sympathy for a player already paid more in a week than the average working man will earn in 10 years.
Stretford has built a career employing the approach of the poker player.
As he enters his latest game, however, he is about to discover that his opponent holds all the cards. (© Daily Telegraph, London)