There is no feud so bitter and no parting so final like those between Sir Alex Ferguson and the great Manchester United players he has excommunicated over the years. And yet of all those spectacular rows that live on in the memory, there is potentially none like the one brewing between the United manager and Wayne Rooney.
This one is different to all those fall-outs because they signified a victory for United and Ferguson over the importance of any one individual. Rooney has his problems but he is certainly not washed up or fatally distracted by celebrity. He is refusing to sign a new contract because he recognises the decline at United that has crept up over the last year.
Rooney does not want to commit his future to the club because, it is understood, he does not believe that they are investing in new players to replace the old guard of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville. The new contract offered to him thus far is not comparable to the top earners at Manchester City or what he could earn if he left as a free agent when his current deal expires in June 2012. And if Rooney will not sign a new contract then it follows that United will have to sell if they are not to lose him for nothing.
Rooney is applying a very harsh logic to United's situation and one which some of their fans will regard as unpardonable. But his refusal to sign a new contract is based upon the blunt realities of football. He wants more money and greater ambition than the club can offer him. It is the clearest signal yet, after more than five years under the Glazer family's ownership, that United are in decline.
Of course, there are other factors too which include the meltdown in Rooney's private life that followed the revelation that he had used a prostitute and all the scrutiny that has brought upon him. That has not helped his relationship with Ferguson but even at his ungovernable worst, Rooney remained a player for whom it was worth accepting the problems in return for what he gave on the pitch.
Essentially Rooney has asked himself a version of the question that Ferguson has asked hundreds of times over 24 years at United: is this player still an asset to my club? Rooney is the first significant player of Ferguson's reign – aside from Cristiano Ronaldo, who was a very different case – who is asking: is being at this club still advantageous to me?
Over the last 17 years of consistent success at Old Trafford it is inconceivable that a player of Rooney's status would have answered that question any other way than in the affirmative. But times are changing for United.
This is a club that carries a debt of £521.7m and whose owners owe a further £225m on their acquisition. In their financial results published earlier this month United conspired to make a loss of £83m despite an operating profit of £100m with money eaten up by interest payments and the cost of re-financing their debt.
The strain that this has placed on United's historically powerful position in the transfer market has consistently been played down by Ferguson, who has long argued that the money is there if he requires it. From his stance on his new contract it seems there is at least one person who does not believe that – and that is Rooney himself.
As with all Ferguson's biggest fall-outs with players, this cannot stay secret forever. When last week Rooney public debunked Ferguson's claims that he had been injured he was trying to tell us something important. When the striker was dropped for Saturday's game against West Bromwich Albion it was clear the situation had suddenly become much more serious.
In one of his most succinct summaries of what it requires to keep the great beast that is United moving relentlessly forward, Ferguson once likened his club to a bus that never stops travelling. "We're going on to the next stop," Ferguson said 11 years ago. "If somebody gets left behind then that's their own fault."
What Ferguson really meant when he said that the bus always moves on was that he always moves on. Ferguson decides who stays and who goes. Ferguson decides who is in favour and who is out of favour. But if Rooney leaves the club because they cannot match his ambition then it will not be him who is left at the bus stop, but Ferguson.
Over the years Ferguson and United's chief executive David Gill have dealt ruthlessly, and at times brilliantly, in trading players. But football has changed around them. Manchester City, and to a lesser extent Chelsea, are backed by the personal fortunes of very rich men with whom United would struggle to compete at the best of times.
Unfortunately for United this is not the best of times for them financially, in fact it is not even close. In an era when the most profitable football club in Britain had to be at their cash-generating best to compete with the sheikhs and oligarchs ranged against them, United are losing £40m a year in interest payments on the Glazer debt.
It is possible that Rooney could yet be persuaded. Ferguson and Gill could talk him round and promise that his future is best served at a club that can still compete. But the power dynamics at the heart of United are changing. The debt is still there. The bus is revving. But who's driving?
Wilshere merited a red card, but Wenger doesn't
Jack Wilshere's red card against Birmingham City will delight the anti-Arsène Wenger lobby among the Premier League management fraternity, who will point to the foul on Nikola Zigic as evidence that the Arsenal manager is a hypocrite.
It was a bad foul and it was right that Wilshere was sent off. But it is nonsense to argue that everything Wenger has had to say on the subject of reckless tackles is now rendered obsolete because of one incident. He has made some important points on the subject and, no matter how unpopular it has made him, he has stood by those opinions. Something that Danny Murphy found just too hard to do, judging by his retreat on Saturday.
World Cup inquiry needs wider remit
The investigation by The Sunday Times into Fifa corruption over World Cup votes was a fine piece of work and surely confirmed some of the worst fears many have about the 2018 bidding process.
Unfortunately, I can only see this story going one way. Like the Lord Triesman affair or the forthcoming Panorama documentary on Fifa, it will be treated in terms of how much damage it does to the English bid rather than prompting analysis of the activities of those involved in the whole process. Fifa has promised to investigate the allegations itself. It is just a hunch, but my guess is that it will not find any evidence of wrongdoing.Reuse content