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Wayne Rooney’s Impending Departure Catches Fergie By Surprise: Are United Falling Apart?

October 20, 2010

So, it looks like Wayne Rooney is on his way out of Old Trafford. Disputes over ankle injuries, private life revelations, press intrusions, shit English weather, more money to be earned elsewhere, perhaps? Who knows.

Regardless, this isn’t the first time Sir Alex Ferguson has had an apparently key player move on from his stewardship, as he himself stated: ‘We’ve had to deal with these situations over the years’. In this case, however, it appears the motivation is more Rooney’s – and Fergie seems dumbfounded and bemused as to how such a move could be pursued without his permission or control. In contrast, the previous big name departures from Old Trafford have been either at Ferguson’s behest or for the club’s explicit financial gain.

SportingBlogs takes a look at several of these previous big departures to see how well Fergie and United fared following them, and uses them to speculate on how well placed United might be to deal with Rooney’s impending depature…

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Jaap Stam (2001) – the one sale Fergie has admitted to getting wrong. Stam, aged twenty-nine and returning from a knee injury, was sold to Lazio for what seemed like a good deal at £16.5m. The defender’s departure also came shortly after controversial autobiographical revelations involving the dressing room and allegedly being tapping-up by United. Regardless, Fergie thought he could replace Stam with the thirty-six year old Laurent Blanc for a season-or-so whilst blooding youngsters John O’Shea and Wes Brown. It backfired, with Stam still playing top level football years later, and United going from three consecutive titles with him to only one title from the following five seasons.

David Beckham (2003) – a boot, an eye-brow, a bandage, a hair-band, Fergie v Beckham… blah blah blah. Story told. Anyway, Becks moved on and Fergie replaced him with some relatively unknown Portugese youngster. Cristiano Ronaldo took the #7 jersey, eventually settled, scored 118 goals in 292 appearances, won three league titles and one Champions League. Enough said really.

Roy Keane (Nov ’05) – after criticising the players, club, and fans one too many times, Fergie saw fit to see him on his way. Keane departed for Celtic half-way through the season, and although United failed to win the league that year, they claimed three consecutive league titles in the following three seasons.

Ruud van Nistelrooy (2006) – the Dutchman bagged 150 goals in 219 games for the Red Devils before an apparent fall-out with Fergie over being repeatedly benched (purportedly over a fall-out with Ronaldo) towards the end of the 2005-06 season saw him departing for Madrid that summer. Many felt the loss of their prolific front-man would weaken United, but a triplet of consecutive league titles followed, with the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez taking up the goal-scoring responsibilities. Fergie had felt he had the players to achieve without Ruud. His decision was vindicated.

Cristiano Ronaldo (2009) – Real Madrid offered £80m for the winger. It made financial sense for Manchester United, struggling under the Glazer-induced debt burden that were tightening the Old Trafford purse-strings. They dealt. Fergie felt he had a replacement in another Portugese youngster, Luis Nani, but just to be sure he splashed around £16m on Antonio Valencia. Both young and talented, with potential to mature like Ronaldo did for sure, but last year United failed to win the league title, FA Cup, or Champions League.

Carlos Tevez (2009) – Read above. Tightened purse-strings at Old Trafford saw Tevez’s agent/owners/whoever peruse the options, duly plumping for a short hop across Manchester to Eastlands. No Tevez or Ronaldo to support Rooney in 2009-10, just an ageing Michael Owen and seemingly listless Dimitar Berbatov; the result – no league title, no European success, no FA Cup.

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As you can see, Fergie’s has a mixed record when it comes to the departures of United’s big players. He has admitted to regretting Jaap Stam’s departure, but was successful in rebuilding United following the seemingly critical departures of Beckham, Keane and van Nistelrooy. The jury is still out in the post-Ronaldo and post-Tevez era, but based on last season and this season’s relative struggles, it is hard to suggest that Fergie has got those one’s correct. Mixed at best, you might say.

However, at least Sir Alex had a relatively large amount of control over these preceding significant departures, whether it be utilising financial proceeds to rebuild, or knowing that replacements were already in place. The worrying thing for United is that with Rooney he appears to have been caught unawares. In his candid interview with MUTV (view the transcript on United’s website with this link), Ferguson uses countless telling terms and sentences which indicate just how far out of his control, and ultimately unplanned for, this Rooney saga is: ‘couldn’t believe it […] dumbfounded […] I couldn’t understand it […] I was shocked […] I’m disappointed, very disappointed, I can’t believe it.’

Ferguson’s surprise is as significant as the trouble he and United now face. With Ronaldo and Tevez moved on, the offensive side of the team was shaping up to be built around Rooney over the coming seasons, with the youthful likes of Nani, Valencia, Federico Macheda, Javier Hernandez (and so on) learning their trade with Rooney as the lynch-pin, shepherding United’s strike-force into another new era. Rooney’s shock impending departure could prove highly destablising for Ferguson’s best-laid plans. Furthermore they look like losing their key asset to a main rival, whether that be on a European front with Real Madrid or on the domestic front with Manchester City.

Losing the title by one point without Ronaldo and Tevez last season was no disaster for the Red Devils; ‘that doesn’t tell us this team is falling apart or anything like that,’ as Ferguson noted. In the past, however, when key players have left, in general Ferguson has had other talented players in place (or close to being in place) to help United through the transition phase – Rooney being key in the post-Ronaldo/Tevez era. Assuming Rooney cannot reconcile with Fergie and the club, and with Sir Alex’s future plans thrown into the air by Rooney’s desire to exit Old Trafford, Ferguson and United’s fans must be incredibly worried that their team is indeed on the brink of falling apart.

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