Wayne Rooney is the best player in his generation. One hundred and thirty-two goals in 287 games played with Manchester United and twenty-six goals in sixty-seven games played with England’s national team. For a player as proficient at providing goals for others as he is at scoring them himself these are incredible statistics.
Proclaimed footballer of the year in England both by players and by fans last year, Rooney was considered the key player in England’s team before the World Cup.
However, Rooney has had a difficult season so far. After a particularly poor start on the pitch revelations came out that he had cheated on his wife, and suddenly he had problems wherever he looked.
The climax of perhaps the most written about months of his life occurred when, during negotiations over his new contract, he met Sir Alex Ferguson and expressed his desire to leave the club on the pretext that the team is not competitive enough. This was a shock for the entire footballing world, and the rumours sending him to Chelsea, Madrid or the Manchester City spreading immediately. But why would the player leave a club that has given him everything: glory, fame and money? This is a club that has a history of keeping players for their entire careers, so the world wondered what it was that Rooney found he lacked.
To claim the team was not competitive enough was ridiculous. Maybe Manchester United are not playing as well as expected at the time of writing the Red Devils are 3rd in the League, just behind the Gunners with who have the same number of points and a further 5 point behind Chelsea, who have been by far the strongest team all season. Furthermore, the most likely cause of this minor slump is Rooney, who has been disappointingly poor all season.
A teammate, the French international Patrice Evra summed up the dressing room’s mood saying in an interview “if a player does not believe in his partners, he must not play for the team”.
And then all of a sudden it was all over. Rooney signed a new five year contract with Manchester United, with a new salary of about £150,000 per week.
Long before Rooney signed his new deal, Real Madrid’s headcoach Jose Mourinho predicted that Rooney would sign for “another five of six years with a new contract with a new much higher salary”. Mourinho was right. The Special One, as he is often called, is a realist, and he knows better than anyone that star players now have the power to negotiate almost any salary for a new contract.
For the last fifteen years, we have seen a rise in the importance of money in football. Today, players are mercenaries who exchange their footballing skills for obscene amounts of money. The time when footballers represented their city is over. The time when footballers played for the teams they loved and cheered for when they where kids and started playing football is over. Money rules football and money brings you the best players.
Rooney is a typical modern football player. He knows he is the best player in his team, and that the team needs him. He knew that Manchester would have to agree to pay him more if they wanted to keep him, and any suggestion that he might leave was purely a move in the negotiations to raise the stakes. And his salary. He brought City, Madrid and Chelsea into the negotiations because they are clubs that have the money to pay him any amount he could ask for.
Football, a sport that is supposed to convey values such as respect has become a business where loyalty, fidelity and honour have no place in the actual machinations of the business. Rooney undoubtedly plays with all his heart on the pitch, but off the pitch the sport is ruled by greed and agents who see nothing but the percentage they obtain.
Well, Rooney might have a new contract with Manchester United but he lost something, something more precious in my eyes that money can’t buy him. Respect, respect from the club’s fans. I believe Old Trafford will remember what Rooney has done and it will take time for them to forget it. When the majority of the players in the best clubs are foreign, the fans become the identity of a club. Higher salary or not every player has to reconcile themselves with this identity.