Wayne Rooney’s Contract, Not David Moyes’ Words, Will Determine His Manchester United Future

Wayne RooneyThis isn’t over yet — not by a long shot.

On Friday, David Moyes held his first news conference as Manchester United’s manager. He told the media that Wayne Rooney will stay with United and that he looks forward to working with the star forward again.

“Wayne is not for sale,” the Telegraph reports Moyes said. “He’s a Manchester United player and he will remain a Manchester United player.

“I’ve been fortunate, I’ve known Wayne since he was 16.

“I’ve had several meetings with Wayne. He’s training brilliantly well, he’s come back in good shape and I’m really looking forward to working with him.

But Moyes’ words do little to change the face of one of this summer’s most closely watched transfer sagas. The factors and conditions which gave birth to the Rooney speculation remain in place, and they could still drive him away from United.

When a club puts a player up for sale, it tells the world that the player is unwanted and drives down his transfer value. No right-thinking club would do that to a player worth at least £20 million ($31 million), especially when leading clubs like Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea, Arsenal and Bayern Munich are thought to be interested in his services. Moyes was merely saying what any manager would say when asked about a player who is rumored to be moving on. He was protecting United’s interests — both financial and in terms of public relations.

While Rooney may not have a “for sale” sign attached to him, that doesn’t mean he’ll continue at Old Trafford. His contract expires in 2015, and this summer should see him either sign an extension or find a new home.

For Rooney, the end of the 2012-13 season was a mess. Former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson dropped him to the bench for United’s biggest game of the season (a UEFA Champions League game against Real Madrid in March), and reports saying he was ready to sell Rooney soon followed.

Ferguson announced his retirement in May, but things got worse between him and Rooney. Rooney wasn’t in the squad for United’s last two games of the season, and Ferguson spectacularly told a postgame news conference that Rooney had asked to leave the club.

Exactly how Rooney asked to leave remains in doubt. He may have told Ferguson he wanted to go during a private meeting, but he reportedly never submitted a written transfer request. By making those details public, Ferguson might have been laying the groundwork for United to sell Rooney without facing major backlash from fans.

Rooney has become a United icon since joining from Everton in 2004, and it is thought that he wants to continue with the club. He is the fourth-leading goal scorer in club history, and United has won five Premier League titles, two League Cups, one UEFA Champions League title and one FIFA Club World Cup title with Rooney on the squad. He and his young family are comfortable living in greater Manchester and reportedly have little interest in moving — especially abroad. Nevertheless, United may still be ready to bid farewell to the England international.

Ferguson’s retirement and Moyes’ arrival does little to change the compass of Rooney’s transfer saga because it’s primarily a professional matter, rather than a personal one. Rooney will be 28 in October, and he reportedly is United’s highest-paid player, earning around £250,000 a week. Does United want to commit such substantial resources to an aging player who has had trouble maintaining peak fitness over the years?

While Ferguson reportedly thought Rooney’s best years are behind him, Moyes may not agree.

“I’ve had several meetings with Wayne,” Moyes said. “He’s training brilliantly well, he’s come back in good shape and I’m really looking forward to working with him.

“We have spoken several times and as far as I’ve seen it, whatever happened before [with Ferguson] has gone.

“We are working together now. I see a glint in his eye, he looks happy and if he is saying I’m going to knuckle down and get it right — let’s not kid ourselves. He’s a terrific player and let me reiterate, he’s not for sale.”

He may not be for sale now, but should contract talks start and stall (if they haven’t already) that will change. Rooney’s next contract will probably be his last major deal, as he will be on the wrong side of 30 if and when it becomes time to renew. Like any professional player and breadwinner, he probably wants to make as much or more than he currently earns.

But his role at United has diminished over the last 12 months, since Robin van Persie became the focal point of the United attack. Ferguson profited from Rooney’s selfless versatility last season, using him as a second forward, a winger and an attacking midfielder. How Moyes will deploy him is anyone’s guess, but van Persie and United’s impressive array of backup strikers are still there. Should Rooney remain an expensive, jack-of-all-trades attacker under Moyes, there’s little chance he’ll get that big payday at United.

United would probably want him to take a pay cut, given his diminished importance to the team. Rooney, knowing he could earn more at a European power or play more at a domestic rival, would probably balk at the suggestion of a pay cut. They may be able to compromise around a mix of incentives and option years. They may not. Only time will tell.

Rooney and United will probably resolve the situation before the end of year. It’s more likely that it will happen before September. Rooney’s transfer value will start to gradually decline as he nears the final year of his contract and take a sharp dip after the 2013-14 season. This is how the market works. If United wants to sell him for peak value, it must do so before the transfer window closes on August 31. The progress and resolution of Rooney’s contract negotiations (or lack thereof) will determine whether he remains a United player or not.

Interested clubs are ready to spend serious cash on Rooney. In the coming months, Rooney and United must decide how much they need each other. Moyes only started his new job on July 1, so Friday’s proclamation will do little, if anything to change a saga that has been publicly running for the last four months and privately going on for much longer than that.

Have a question for Marcus Kwesi O’Mard? Send it to him via Twitter at @NESNsoccer, NESN Soccer’s Facebook page or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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