Ian Herbert: Manchester United left with quandary over how to market 'bad guy' Wayne Rooney

It is in Asia, where stars with rough spots are an easier sell, that United will  be looking to push the Rooney image and make good on their rights

You don’t need a colourful imagination to know how Sir Alex Ferguson would feel about Mario Balotelli being the template from which Manchester United can set about making some serious money out of Wayne Rooney, to offset the many millions more they are paying out on his new salary.

Ferguson never gave full vent to his feelings about Balotelli – perhaps it was the risk of hubris which deterred him as Manchester City came like fury at United in the last years of his era – but the look on his face the day he discussed Roberto Mancini and his protégé grappling with each other on a Carrington training pitch told the story. What few appreciated at that time, a year or so back, was that as Balotelli’s notoriety reached its peak – or trough, according to your perspective – provoking one controversy after another, he was proving an incredible commercial hit in Asia. Sergio Aguero, Yaya Touré and Joe Hart were the predictable City players who would do as asked but none could hold a candle to the deals raked in by the Italian.

“The best example of bad guy perception,” is how one specialist in this field describes Balotelli to me and you only have to look at some of his promotional videos with Puma, for whom he is now a leading symbol, to see how controversy pays. One of the first boots made for him, a few months ago, was emblazoned with news headlines from his career to date, with “Why always Puma?” inked in big pink letters the predominant one.

This example suddenly matters a great deal to United, because sweating their prime asset commercially is their way of getting some payback for accepting the Rooney pay demands put before them by the player’s agent, Paul Stretford – who pockets a fifth of off-field earnings, if the percentages revealed in a Manchester Mercantile Court case four years ago still apply.

 

In return for making Rooney Britain’s best-paid footballer by a distance, United will have ensured that a more significant proportion of his image rights revenue now comes directly to them, rather than him. It means that self-interest, not affection, is driving the new search for Rooney endorsements which the United sales staff in London and New York will be embarking upon. And finding sponsors who are willing to deliver that payback is more complicated than signing up Japanese paint firms, Indonesian tyre exporters or Mister Potato – United’s official snack partner, in case you missed it. Securing image rights deals for an individual, rather than a team, is always trickier, because of the unpredictability attached, but it is doubly so with Rooney.

Experts experienced in selling Premier League player image rights will tell you that when there is a controversy or marital indiscretion in a star’s past there can be problems in this country. “After what’s happened in the past it’s difficult with Rooney in England,” one tells me. Before the conflagration in his personal life created by allegations of assignations with call girl Jennifer Thompson in 2010, Rooney’s endorsements included EA Sports and Coca-Cola. Both contracts were subsequently not renewed.

Rooney has come through the most rigorous selection process in modern sport

It is in Asia, where stars with rough spots are an easier sell, that United will be looking to push the Rooney image most profitably, perhaps observing in the course of doing so that Chelsea’s John Terry has a following over there which is outstripping his commercial worth here.

We are talking about how Rooney will be positioned in a sales dossier, when it all comes down to it – however unedifying that might be to those for whom endorsements were once no more complicated than Kevin Keegan splashing on Brut and Pat Jennings eating Kelloggs’ Frosties. And since the new football money game is what it is, there is no point pretending that Rooney being promoted here is entirely positive.

David Beckham has the photogenic qualities which allowed him to take home around £40,000 a day for endorsing brands including Armani, Adidas, Samsung and Diet Coke during 2011. The Messi brand, which is about homespun innocence, results in him benefiting from a staggering €25m (£20.6m) a year because of Barcelona’s policy of claiming no image rights money as their own. (At Real Madrid, it is split 50:50 between player and club. Manchester City’s contracts are structured in such a way that the club takes it all.)

Building on Rooney’s current Samsung deal means a sales pitch which draws on his fundamental appeal: raw, rough-edged unpredictability, even if that does entail promoting traits in their star player that the manager would like to see in the background. (Boot deals are generally excluded from image rights work.)

The other question for United is how many new endorsements are practical. One worry has been the sheer lack of available dates in the football calendar for Rooney to appear clutching the energy drink or computer console which he will be promoting.

Ferguson would certainly have had an answer to this quandary, given what Rooney said in court when the player’s former agency, Proactive, was pursuing £4.3m lost to it after Stretford left the company and took Rooney with him. Citing Nike, Coca-Cola, EA Sports and Tiger beer as his four affiliates, Rooney said Ferguson had imposed a limit of five endorsements on him. “And to be honest, I’m probably doing the max,” Rooney told the court. Stretford told the court that Ferguson was known “for his attention to detail”. That didn’t just mean training pitch detail, the agent explained. “He believes the priority of any player should be his football. I’m not naming any names but I think he has experience where commercial opportunities have got out of control…”

If Ferguson was still in control at Old Trafford, Rooney would be long gone and these commercial calculations would be academic. But how, from that place where he now resides, does Ferguson feel about all of these calculations? You don’t need a colourful imagination to know.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders