United willing to lose Rooney for free to keep European hopes alive
Manchester United believe Wayne Rooney is so key to their European hopes that they will risk losing him for nothing.
With United falling six points adrift of the top four following Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Chelsea, the nightmare scenario of missing out on the Champions League has also prompted the club to delay confirmation of a summer tour of the United States because of possible qualifying round commitments in the Europa League at the end of July.
Any failure to secure a top-four finish would increase the uncertainty surrounding Rooney’s future at the club, with Chelsea already planning to test United’s resolve with a move for the player, having had two bids rejected last summer.
Rooney is entering the final 12 months of his £250,000-a-week contract this summer but while the prospect of playing in the Europa League is unlikely to accelerate any decision on Rooney’s part to commit to a new deal, it is understood that the club’s determination not to sell the England forward will remain unchanged.
Having seen Liverpool hold onto Luis Suárez last summer, despite strenuous efforts by the player and Arsenal to force a transfer to the Emirates Stadium, United regard Rooney as being just as crucial to the club’s hopes of success next season as Suárez has been to Liverpool this term.
And although this summer offers United the final opportunity to secure a market-value transfer fee for Rooney should he continue to pursue a move elsewhere, there is an acceptance within Old Trafford that the cost of losing the player for nothing at the end of his contract would be outweighed by the financial uplift of him helping the club regain Champions League status.
Rooney, who is expected to return to action in Wednesday’s Capital One Cup semi-final second leg at home to Sunderland after three weeks out with a groin injury, has remained guarded on his own intentions since stopping short of submitting an official transfer request last summer.
While the key factors in his disillusionment last season have largely been resolved – primarily his concerns over Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence at Old Trafford – United’s poor form this season has placed doubt over his willingness to remain at the club beyond this summer.
Contract talks between United and Rooney’s representatives are expected to take place before the end of the season, but there has been little indication from the player that an agreement will be reached prior to the World Cup.
With Rooney due to return to action, however, and Robin van Persie back in training following six weeks on the sidelines with a thigh injury, there remains hope at United that Moyes can lead the team to a late surge up the table that will secure a top-four finish.
But with uncertainty over that prospect, United have been forced to put their pre-season plans on hold with the proposed tour of the United States at risk of being cut short by potential Europa League involvement.
United had been due to embark on a three-week tour of North America in mid-July to coincide with the launch of the club’s £53 million-a-year shirt sponsorship deal with Chevrolet.
But with the team’s form leaving the club seventh in the Premier League, plans to undertake a promotional tour of the States have been shelved until a clearer picture emerges of which European competition United will compete in next season.
Should United overcome Sunderland tomorrow and win the Capital One Cup against Manchester City at Wembley on March 2, they would be assured of a place in the Europa League at the very least next season.
However, with the Capital One Cup winners having to enter the Europa League in the third qualifying round, United would face a qualifier on July 31 unless they climb the table to secure a Champions League spot or a Europa League position via the league, which would ensure entry at the play-off round stage.
United’s summer plans already face the unavoidable disruption caused by the World Cup, which will see those players involved in Brazil given a month off by Moyes from the date that their involvement in the tournament ends.
As such, many first-team players such as Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie would miss large sections, if not all, of the tour of North America.
Moyes is keen to take his squad to the United States due to the training facilities available and reduction in travelling time from last summer’s tour, when United play in Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong.
And although opponents have yet to be confirmed, Bayern Munich’s commitment to play the MLS All-Stars in Portland on Aug 6 has opened up the prospect of a glamour clash against the European champions in the States.
Meanwhile, Wilfried Zaha’s season plummetted to a fresh low on Monday night when he was left on the bench for United Under-21s’ game against their Middlesbrough counterparts.