In just under two weeks, Manchester United will begin their pre-season preparations for the upcoming season in the United States of America – in a hectic run of games that will include Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona in the space of seven days.
Although the usual excitement around the build-up to a fresh season still exists in a large scale – there is also a growing sense of unease, for want of the right word, among the supporters who spend their time replying, ‘Announce <insert player name>’ under every Manchester United tweet. This feeling has not been helped either by active football journalists either ruling out Manchester United signing a universally popular name or linking the club to someone who is quickly discarded as ‘underwhelming’.
Thus the vicious cycle of Manchester United Twitter has been in motion for quite sometime now – feeding on copious amounts of speculation and sometimes – outright frustration, except for the brief period when everyone tried to convince their followers why Victor Lindelof could be the next Rio Ferdinand.
Amidst the kerfuffle, United are so far failing to resolve one of the key issues in the squad – or in football parlance, ‘getting rid of the deadwood’.
Manchester United may be in a privileged position to be able to add more members to their squad and figures to their already sky-high wage bill and not be bothered by the Financial Fair Play (FFP) – but as internal harmony goes, keeping the spirits high within the squad is one of the fundamental features of a successful team and the adverse impact of oversize and a disproportionate share of playing time, cannot be overstated.
Among unresolved player futures at United, the one that sticks out like a sore thumb is the contract situation of Wayne Rooney, the club captain and all-time record goal-scorer.
In one of my earlier articles, I had mentioned Mourinho’s expert handling of the Wayne Rooney issue in a list of positives under his management, until that point of the season. At the time, there was an established first XI that was bouncing from one win to another – in December and the early weeks of January, a side with Wayne Rooney very much on the periphery.
When you look back on 2016/17, Rooney was never a fixture in the most important games even when he was fit and ready to play.
He was an unused substitute in the League Cup Final at Wembley – the first real significant game of Manchester United under the Portuguese. Neither did the skipper make the starting XI three months on, in the Europa League Final in May, when United played their most significant game of the season under Mourinho. If that is not the clearest indication of where Wayne Rooney is in Mourinho’s pecking order, one would wonder what is.
Rooney had featured in the starting line-up in the Premier League only 15 times, with 11 of his teammates making more appearances through the season while a whopping 18 of them appeared more times than the skipper in the Europa League. That is an almighty fall for a player of his stature who was virtually guaranteed a spot in the eleven when he was fit – for almost a decade.
Gary Neville, never shy of an opinion on United, raised concerns over the potential dangers of brewing uncertainty at the club, which could have a dampening effect on the atmosphere around it, if not within. With a World Cup on the horizon, it is natural from Rooney’s point of view to look elsewhere for more playing time but whether or not the new club would agree to pay his astronomical wages, remains to be one of the main stumbling blocks in any such pursuit.
But that should not deter Manchester United and Wayne Rooney from finding a solution to this haggling problem – whatever it is and not let this costly conundrum continue to hang over their heads ahead of the fresh season.