Wayne Rooney's Man United departure looks inevitable, but not on transfer deadline day
The fixtures are piling up for Manchester United and Jose Mourinho has not been shy about voicing his opinion on the subject in recent days.
“Nonsense” and “crazy” are two of the words he used to describe the schedule his team are facing after United guaranteed another game with victory over Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.
He has also aimed a couple of sarcastic barbs in the direction of the fixture co-ordinators and broadcasters.
Last week, he suggested they will choose an “amazing moment, difficult for us” to play United’s postponed Premier League game against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Mourinho is especially concerned about the match being scheduled for the back end of the campaign, when United must already travel to Arsenal and Spurs in two of their final three league fixtures.
Post-Wigan, he struck a similar, mocking tone when he talked about the “nice gifts”, in scheduling terms, that lie in wait and is particularly dismayed that United are due to play three games in the fortnight leading up to the EFL Cup final against Southampton when their opponents will be fixtureless.
There was also another complaint, one raised for the first time when explaining his plans to name Bastian Schweinsteiger in his squad for the Europa League knockout stages. “We don’t have many players,” the United manager said.
With Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay having already left and Ashley Young likely to follow suit, with a host of clubs in the Premier League and China chasing his signature, Mourinho could be three players light by the close of the European transfer window on Tuesday evening, barring a dramatic late arrival.
And it is those competing scenarios – an increasingly onerous schedule and a smaller squad – that would make it such a brave call parting ways with Wayne Rooney before the close of the Chinese transfer window on Feb. 28.
Could it happen? There are certainly offers on the table and have been for a while, with Rooney in line to earn in excess of £32 million a year by joining that particular gravy train.
But both he and United would need to agree to the move and, for now at least, it is hard to make an overly persuasive case for either party ending a near 13-year association before the Spring is upon us.
Sure, China would love Rooney in situ for the start of the new season in March but the truth is the money would still be there for the striker and United to take five months from now. It is not as if they are facing an immediate deadline, after which all bets are off.
From United’s perspective, they need the body. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic got injured, Mourinho would be without an experienced centre-forward to call upon during a frenetic run-in when the games will come thick and fast.
Marcus Rashford, 19, is an outstanding talent but he has not been asked to lead the line much this season and remains a work in progress. Anthony Martial, 21, looked decidedly uncomfortable being asked to do just that against Wigan before Mourinho abandoned the experiment after 35 minutes and moved him to his more familiar position wide on the left.
Rooney may not be the formidable forward he once was but, as he proved with that record-breaking 250th goal against Stoke City that snatched a vital point in the fourth minute of stoppage time, he could still have a key part to play over the coming months.
Selling him next month when United could get a similar fee in the summer and still have his £15.6 million a year salary off the wage bill in time to fund a £85 million move for Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann would appear to make little sense.
Equally, from Rooney’s side, there is the prospect of more silverware with United, who are still competing in three domestic competitions, even if the Premier League title would appear beyond them at this stage.
Yes, Chinese riches may prove impossible to turn down but it is the hunt for trophies that has sustained Rooney during his glittering playing career and, with his best days behind him but opportunity still knocking, that thirst is unlikely to have been quenched.
The other question is where a move to China, or Major League Soccer, would leave Rooney’s England career?
Gareth Southgate, the England manager, may say otherwise but Rooney seeing out his playing career in China hardly seems like the best way to strengthen his international prospects and he has spoken publicly about wanting to represent his country at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The talk will only intensify but, if a split is inevitable this year, the summer would seem a much more beneficial time for both Rooney and United to make it.