Sir Alex Ferguson and his chief executive David Gill will stage emergency talks this morning to find a way of drawing a line under the deepening Wayne Rooney crisis which the manager now believes is threatening to derail Manchester United's season.
Gill spoke at length to the United owners the Glazer family last night and he and Ferguson will meet at 10am to decide whether to put Rooney on the transfer list and get him out of the club by January. Ferguson ridiculed a suggestion after the 1-0 Champions League win against Bursaspor last night that Rooney would be suspended for casting aspersions on the quality of his squad in a statement issued two hours before the match. But the manager and the club are incensed by Rooney's declaration that he doubts "the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world" and "win trophies."
Ferguson said the issue would be "put to bed" today. "I've only won 27 trophies," was his wry riposte to Rooney's challenge and for the second time in as many days Ferguson also launched a passionate defence of his decision to invest in a new generation of young players, rather than buy in more experienced names.
Rooney's 230-word statement, which at around 5.40pm confirmed his desire to leave United, was centred on the most credible argument available to him: that the club's ambitions do not match his own. The 24-year-old directly questioned the accuracy – and honesty - of Ferguson's account on Tuesday of events leading to his anticipated departure. While the United manager said he was "dumbfounded" to find that Rooney's mind was set on 14 August, when Gill was informed of the decision by the player's agent Paul Stretford, the player's account of a meeting with Gill last week suggests he has given them much longer to convince him of their ambition. He also declared there were have been "a number of meetings" since August, when he has pressed the same point.
Rooney's statement alludes to his "recent difficulties" with Ferguson – also contradicting the manager's claim that there had been no personal problems between them. By subtly linking Ferguson's inevitable retirement to his concerns about the future, he reinforces his own case. "For Manchester United's sake I wish he could go on forever because he's a one-off and a genius."
But Ferguson ratcheted up this extraordinary public battle, with a powerful and idiosyncratic late night explanation of why Rooney should have invested faith in his proven ability to spot talent and why the grass might not be as green as the striker really thinks it will be at Manchester City. "Sometimes you look in a field and you see a cow and you think it's a better cow than the one you've got in the field," Ferguson said. "It never really works out that way. It's probably the same cow and its not as good as your own cow. Some players like to think there's a better world somewhere else. It never really works."
As metaphors goes, it was about as memorable as Eric Cantona's "seagulls follow the trawler" story, though and it was accompanied by Ferguson's revelation that a lack of belief in his judgement in the transfer market had once persuaded a player – possibly Roy Keane – to leave because he thought Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were not good enough. "He was not prepared to wait until they were good enough," Ferguson said.
"But that's the trouble with potential," he went on. "People don't identify potential. They're very poor at it. I've identified it all my life – the potential in young people. I know potential. I know how to develop and have faith in young people, who surprise you when given the opportunity and that's what this club is all about. When you see Manchester United at the moment with all these young players, 14 under 22, you can't see Manchester United three years ahead."
The manager reiterated, with more detail than before, that he had attempted to make a marquee signing – believed to be Valencia's David Villa – this summer though the player had not wanted to play in England. He concluded that there was no problem with United. "There's not a thing wrong with Manchester United – not a thing wrong with it. So we will carry on, goodnight." But Rooney remains unconvinced by the ambition of a club who have spent less than £50m in total since the £80m departure of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid last year.
Rooney's alluded to the "ability" of United to spend, rather than an unwillingness, a suggestion that their totemic player shares the view – vehemently denied by United – that the club's financial position has left them floundering. The Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson's indifferent response last night to suggestions that Ferguson may come calling for Fernando Torres –"these things happen. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," he said – will reinforce United's belief that their initial inquiries about the play may bear fruit.
Asked about the perceived shift in the balance of power between the two Manchester clubs, City manager Roberto Mancini said: "Life changes. I don't think one club can win [dominate] for 100 or 15 years. It is impossible for a club to continue that. It was the same situation a few years ago at Chelsea , and maybe 10-15 years ago at United. All clubs who can spend money get this criticism."
'All about winning trophies': Wayne Rooney's statement in full
I met with David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad.
I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract.
I was interested to hear what Sir Alex had to say yesterday and surprised by some of it.
It is absolutely true, as he said, that my agent and I have had a number of meetings with the club about a new contract. During those meetings in August I asked for assurances about the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world.
I have never had anything but complete respect for MUFC. How could I not have done, given its fantastic history and especially the last six years in which I have been lucky to play a part?
For me it's all about winning trophies – as the club has always done under Sir Alex. Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified.
Despite recent difficulties, I know I will always owe Sir Alex Ferguson a huge debt. He is a great manager and mentor, who has helped and supported me from the day he signed me from Everton when I was only 18.
For Manchester United's sake I wish he could go on for ever because he's a one-off and a genius.