Saturday 20 January 2018

Rooney faces the tyranny of choice over next move

Beckham's premature MLS move should serve as a warning, writes Sam Wallace

Wayne Rooney: Has big offer on table. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Wayne Rooney: Has big offer on table. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

In the final days of Bobby Charlton's Manchester United career he recalls, in his great autobiography, a game against Birmingham City when, in his own words he says: "I chased and chased but there was nothing there for me."

Charlton did play again after he walked away from United in May 1973, where he established himself as the greatest English footballer of the age - as player-manager at Preston North End. But it was not until he worked his way through that stint at Preston, and a travel business directorship that he found new fulfilment in establishing his eponymous 'soccer schools'.

The irony being that because Charlton had not attended the requisite Football Association courses, the Bobby Charlton soccer schools, he recalled, were regarded by the governing body as an "outlaw organisation".

Famous

That the FA should seek to alienate England's most famous player of all time tells you everything you need to know about that institution in that era, and one hopes that the same fate will never befall Wayne Rooney as he arrives at the same crossroads.

Rooney is only 31 but has broken both the England and United goalscoring records that Charlton left standing when he walked away from Old Trafford at the age of 35. Now Rooney faces that troubling question of what next?

Charlton was a wealthy man when he left the game, and also grateful that it had given him a place in the world. The £45,000 he was gifted from his 1972 testimonial against Celtic would be worth £530,000 in today's money, a not inconsiderable sum. Or, looking at it another way, a week's wages in Chinese football.

If this is indeed the end for Rooney at United, and he is to be launched East before the transfer window of Chinese Super League shuts then there remains some troubling questions, such as which club does Rooney sign for?

There are some mundane considerations in the unlikely event that Rooney goes before Tuesday's deadline - the big clubs already have their quotas full.

The three clubs in the Asian Champions League group stages have all filled their allocations which permit just three foreign players on the pitch at any one time, down from the previous quota of three foreign players plus one from the Asian federation, which was hastily revised in the close season. Of course, in China, change happens quickly but even so Rooney would be leaving it late.

Shanghai SIPG, one of the more attractive options, already have the Brazilian trio of Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson under Andre Villas-Boas. The defending domestic champions, Guangzhou Evergrande, also have their allocation, with three Brazilians including Paulinho, formerly of Tottenham, and the Colombian Jackson Martinez. At Jiangsu Suning, Ramires is the big Premier League name, as well as Alex Teixeira.

In all cases the clubs in question have opted for largely South American foreign allocations with better long-term prospects than Rooney.

At Gus Poyet's Shanghai Shenhua - who made Carlos Tevez the best-paid player in the world and then crashed out of the Asian Champions League in the qualifier - the picture is the same.

Naturally, this being China, allowances can be made when it comes to the rules. Rooney has a name with global reach but he is approaching the status of European semi-retiree, winding down and looking for a new world challenge.

This late in the day it is not even clear that given the disapproving comments made by the government agency, the General Administration of Sport, that the official mood is still for big expenditure on foreign footballers.

Rooney has played his cards shrewdly and ruthlessly in previous contract negotiations with United although this time his hand is diminished.

In an ideal world he would be paid up on his final 16 months and free to cash in, but there is a bigger picture, too.

It is almost 10 years since David Beckham went to Major League Soccer at the ludicrously premature age of 32 and spent the next three years trying to get back to Europe.

Rewards

For Beckham there were financial rewards that must have been difficult to turn down, but by the time he got to Los Angeles he was back in the England squad after one year out and many of the circumstances on which he had based his decision had changed.

Rooney is not 32 until October and he is four months older than a former team-mate of a similar vintage who was thought to be at the end of his general usefulness last summer and off to China soon. That was Radamel Falcao, who on Tuesday night scored what will be one of the Champions League goals of the season against Manchester City.

What comes next is a decision of great consequence for Rooney. As rich and as famous as he is, there will never be a bad option when it comes to the money available, just large amounts of varying sizes.

But when it comes to his career on the pitch, he will wish to avoid the regrets others have. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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