James Lawton: Rooney's cynical and disloyal posturing is the greatest betrayal

Sir Alex Ferguson could not suppress a jaundiced smile when asked about Wayne's worries
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The Independent Online

We cannot be sure quite who authored that insulting, squirming statement of betrayal perhaps never exceeded in the history of football shortly before Manchester United went out to play a Champions League match this week.

No one, though, is entitled to be surprised if it turns out to be an item on the latest invoice of Wayne Rooney's Mr God-knows-what per cent agent Paul Stretford.

But then let's give a little credit where it is due. Whether it was the agent or one of his cohorts or perhaps even an erstwhile ghostwriter who penned a note so remarkable for its unabashed self-interest, we shouldn't forget to tip our hats to the man who provided Rooney with a little, let's say, moral momentum. It was another former hero of Old Trafford, Roy Keane.

Keane spoke briefly, cussedly and with typical self-orientated bitterness but as it happened he made an illuminating contribution to an affair which, who knows, might still have been causing a little confusion – at least to those beleaguered football fans – of all clubs, not just United – still harbouring the long-shot idea that Rooney's stand might be something more than an act of breathtaking cynicism and ingratitude.

Here was the core of Keane the manager's stab at football statesmanship: "If I was to offer advice to Wayne Rooney, who is a good lad, I would tell him to make sure he looks after number one. Players are pieces of meat – that is how I look at it. When your time's up, your time's up."

But then, Keano, how do you fill up that time after you have been transported from the backstreets to a Cheshire mansion, if you have been awarded a lifestyle and a wage bracket beyond the dreams of most of an economically beleaguered nation, if you feel not a twinge of concern about lecturing the most successful manager in the history of English football on the imperatives of ambition, and you are doing it in a period when your form and your image has never been so low?

What do you do with the time and ambition, Keano? Do you just go trotting off to the highest bidder, do you look down your noses at inferior team-mates, some of whom were around while you happened to be winning a belt full of titles, including the Champions League, because maybe the ball isn't always quite arriving how you would prefer?

Do you fill in some of the time with a bit of alleged whoring and general carousing, the odd urination in the street and the occasional purchase of a £200 packet of fags, and then crudely question the right of England supporters who have just travelled to the southern tip of Africa to complain after seeing you put in a World Cup performance that would have scandalised any professional at any level?

Surely, a little loyalty can be squeezed into the rushing time, Keano?

Not the kissing of the jersey variety, which hits such heights of passion at contract time, but something that speaks a little of an understanding of the faith and the belief that, quite apart from the fans, a gnarled old warrior like Sir Alex Ferguson, admittedly not in the end your or a lot of other's people's cup of tea, has invested in your progress through the game.

Ferguson could not suppress a jaundiced smile when he was asked about Rooney's worries over a lack of ambition at Old Trafford. The financial restraints of the Glazer ownership might be a difficulty, of course, but 27 trophies, well, it is something of a statement.

As for Keane's butcher's shop of damaged footballers, Nobby Stiles left Old Trafford with shattered knees and a perilous bank account after 14 brilliant years.

Stiles knew about loyalty and honour and ambition. It developed in the days after the Munich air disaster, when he rocked in his grief in an empty church in his native Collyhurst and this month – isn't the timing odd? – he is selling his World Cup medal out of necessity and for how much?

One estimate is £150,000 or, put another way, somewhat less than the weekly wage Rooney has so rejected so contemptuously.

No, Rooney hasn't exactly ambushed us with the concept of looking after number one, no more than Keane with the selective memory which shuts out times like the one when Ferguson bailed him out of a Manchester police cell at the end of a lost night.

But then maybe no one has perhaps ever done it quite so dismissively, so coldly, not even Javier Mascherano when he told Liverpool his head was not quite right to play at Manchester City because it was too filled with the idea of playing for Barcelona.

One thing at least is certain. Whoever gets Wayne Rooney should not exhaust the ceremonials of hello and goodbye.

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