Manchester United are adamant that they will not let Wayne Rooney leave this summer and are harbouring hopes that the emotional pull of Old Trafford may be enough to persuade Cristiano Ronaldo to return to the club to partner him.
The Premier League champions believe that Ronaldo is desperate to leave Real Madrid and, though they accept that they will be unable to compete financially with Monaco or Paris Saint-Germain in a pursuit of the player, they believe that his emotional ties to Old Trafford could be decisive. Bringing Ronaldo back, four years after his departure, would be a huge statement of intent from the Glazer family and, at a stroke, dispel any sense that they have sought the cheap option by replacing Sir Alex Ferguson with David Moyes. Bestowing Ronaldo on Moyes would underline their belief in him.
United must overcome supreme obstacles if they are to re-sign Ronaldo. The Independent revealed this week that Monaco are ready to make a world record €100m (£85m) bid for the 28-year-old and pay him an annual salary of €20m, or £330,000 per week. In the principality of Monaco, which does not charge its residents income tax, Ronaldo would become the highest-paid footballer in the world – a label which has always appealed to him. A bid of perhaps £70m may be as close as United can get to Monaco, as they seek to develop while retaining profitability.
Madrid president Florentino Perez’s own ego may create another impediment. For an individual who likes to think he can assemble the world’s best players, there would be loss of face in Ronaldo leaving in the summer when Neymar selected Barcelona over Real. Replacing Ronaldo with Gareth Bale might actually seem like a comedown to him and his club’s fans.
But Ronaldo is clearly deeply irritated with Perez’s claim that he will stay at Real and if playing a higher level of football than the French League proves to be a more motivating factor than money, United could be in business. Despite telling his United team-mates for his last two years at Old Trafford that he hated the climate and wanted the Spanish sun, the security and stability which the club provided are something he has not found since. There is little doubt that if he were to decide to return to the Premier League, United would be the club he chooses.
United’s efforts to keep a motivated Rooney at Old Trafford are likely to include Moyes and the new chief executive, Ed Woodward, issuing positive messages about him. Ferguson’s parting shot to Rooney was his declaration, after omitting him from the club’s last home game against Swansea City, that he “was not keen to play because he has asked for transfer”.
Rooney feels this was an exaggeration of what he told Ferguson when he walked into his office, in late April, and said he thought his future might lie elsewhere. With Rooney’s decision on his own future likely to be influenced by the reception he gets from supporters when the club return from their pre-season tour – United will face Sevilla at Old Trafford on Friday 9 August in Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial match – Moyes and Woodward are likely to attempt to soften Ferguson’s representation of the April meeting.
Though the need for a Rooney contract renewal – his current deal has only two years to run from this summer – has been cited as an impediment to him staying at United, the champions may well be prepared to allow the deal to head towards its final year and see how he develops under Moyes.
Senior players – and particularly Ryan Giggs, with whom the striker has a good relationship – are seen as important in the task of persuading Rooney to stay. Ronaldo’s return may make that irresistible.