Sam Wallace: Wayne Rooney has come through the most exacting meritocracy to earn £300,000-a-week at Manchester United

It is telling that none of his fellow players have criticised the huge deal

Chief football correspondent

I was there the night that Wayne Rooney’s first professional deal was announced, in the Joe Mercer suite at Goodison Park, on a Friday evening in January with Everton at home to Sunderland the following day. The most vivid memory of that occasion? We could hardly hear Rooney speak. At 17 and unprepared for the cameras and reporters, the words stuck in his throat and he could not force them out above a whisper.

It took David Moyes, his manager then as now, to intervene and pick up the story. “When he gets the ball at Goodison Park, 40,000 people stand up,” Moyes said, “so that tells you what people think about Wayne Rooney.”

There were so many Everton directors who wanted a place on the top table that they were packed together like builders on the front seat of a van. Rooney was in a suit and so anxious after his first few words that he reached for a glass bottle of water and was about to swig from it until Moyes told him in a stage whisper to “pour it in the glass, Wayne”.

He had been eligible to sign a professional deal since his 17th birthday in October and the delay had caused some anxiety at the club, with interest reported from Real Madrid. His first pro deal took him from a weekly scholar’s wage of £75 to £8,000, with bonuses meaning it exceeded, he later revealed in his first volume of memoirs, the £13,000 a week we reported at the time.

Even then, Rooney was nobody’s fool. He was the first teenager in British football to sign an image rights deal that gave him a percentage of the club’s commercial earnings on him, although it was a long way from the treasure chest that Manchester United laid before him last week.

 

Now Rooney has the benefit of the most finely honed commercial organisation in English football – United’s – working on his behalf to top up his £250,000-a-week salary with commercial deals to take it beyond the £300,000 mark. The relentless deal-making unit set up to feed the Glazer debt is now also calibrated to make him money. No one player bigger than the club? On those terms, Rooney is practically a partner in the business.

At Selhurst Park on Saturday, homage was paid once again to the late Sir Tom Finney, a footballer who belonged to an era, we are reminded, when players were honourable, unpretentious and almost invariably exploited. Finney, we have been reminded over the last few weeks, worked as a plumber to supplement his wages. How absurd that he could not live by his talent for football alone.

This is a country that does not like its footballers too rich and comfortable. Conversely, hands are wrung when former players find themselves at the other extreme, in poverty, when all has been squandered or given over to addiction. Rooney will never trouble the PFA’s hardship fund, and he is worth millions to the Treasury, but that will not prevent the usual backlash against him.

To earn what he does, he has come through the most exacting meritocracy. Even the venture capitalism practised by the Glazers, as red in tooth and claw as it comes, is yet to figure out a way of getting him on the cheap.

Can this kind of salary be justified in relation to those earned by nurses, doctors and teachers? Of course not. Had he refused to sign the deal, were United prepared to invest that £80m they may end up paying Rooney on nurses, doctors and teachers? Sadly not.

Is he worth it? Rooney has been written off more times than one cares to remember. He has been accused of failing to deliver on his early promise – as if he could have played the same way for the rest of his life as he did at Euro 2004, when his barrelling, head-down style came as a surprise to opponents. No question, he has made mistakes. But they are fewer these days.

Back he comes, time and again. His goalscoring, and occasionally his form, have ebbed and flowed. Yet this is a man who will, in all likelihood, break Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring records for United and England which have stood for more than four decades.

Unlike Lionel Messi or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rooney has never had the benefit of a United team built around him. His career at the club has been defined, in many respects, by the kind of team-mates he has had to accommodate, from Cristiano Ronaldo to Robin van Persie.

One suspects that if Moyes cannot make Juan Mata work as right-sided player drifting in, it will be Rooney who is forced to take up the wide position at the expense of his own goalscoring.

It has always been a personal opinion that Rooney, for all his volatility, has done well. At Everton he was given the No 18 shirt, left vacant by Paul Gascoigne (no pressure there then). When Gascoigne was the age Rooney is now, he was at Rangers and not the elite player he had once been, although he went on to have a last hurrah at Euro 1996. Already ravaged by injury, he had 33 England caps at Rooney’s current age, 28 years and four months. Rooney has 88.

In his first autobiography, Rooney lists those peers he played with for the England Under-15s: Wayne Routledge, now at Swansea, who has had a good career, and Lee Croft, once of Manchester City, now at St Johnstone. They were the only ones  to make it as professionals, alongside Rooney.

Like lots of boys in this country who show a talent for football, Rooney bought a ticket for that particular lottery, and committed to the training sessions, the matches and the precedence they take over school. It is no different to any elite-level sportsman. The sacrifice is huge, the chances of success slim, the rewards enormous.

When I left Selhurst Park on Saturday, an hour after the end of the game, Jason Puncheon was still in his kit and boots by the side of the pitch with his children. They were waiting for Rooney, who arrived a few minutes later, to have their picture taken. It is noticeable that from his fellow professionals there has been very little resentment voiced to the size of his new deal.

They know better than anyone that Rooney has come through the most rigorous selection process in modern sport. Manchester United scout all over the world, in a sport played by more people than any other, and they still could not find anyone, certainly anyone available, they would sooner spend that money on than Rooney.

Triple punishment question will require creative thinking

On Saturday, the International Football Association Board (Ifab) meets in Switzerland with the question of “triple punishment” on the agenda – the red card, penalty and suspension levied against the likes of Wojciech Szczesny and Martin Demichelis last week.

The Uefa president, Michel Platini, wants Ifab, which controls the laws of the game, to change it. The red card for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity was brought in to eradicate the kind of professional foul that Willie Young made infamous in the 1980 FA Cup final.

Platini has floated the idea of 15-minute sin bins. Surely unworkable in the case of goalkeepers. It has been suggested that a red card would only be awarded to the offender if a penalty was missed. Until it was pointed out that if the offence took place early in the game, there would arguably be more benefit in the opposing team missing the penalty and putting their opponents down to 10 men.

Solving this one might be beyond even the creativeness of Platini’s foot soldiers.

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns News Corps and 20th Century Fox
theatrePlaywright David Williamson is struggling to find a big name to star as the media mogul
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?