Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday accused Wayne Rooney of showing Manchester United a lack of respect by indulging in the kind of "nonsense" that the manager had warned him against when accepting his desire to leave Old Trafford, two months ago..
Ferguson, whose admission that United's £150,000-a-week offer to Rooney has proved insufficient to keep him, provided a detailed explanation of how their own relationship has had nothing to do with the 24-year-old's decision to go – as The Independent reported on Monday. But Ferguson believes Rooney has shown grave disrespect to United by allowing suggestions to the contrary to take hold, in part by directly contradicting the manager's claims that he has been carrying an ankle injury.
Ferguson revealed that after Rooney had confirmed he wanted out of Old Trafford, he asked that he go with good grace. "I said to him only one thing," Ferguson said. "I said, 'Just remember one thing, respect this club. I don't want any nonsense from you. Just respect the club.' I don't know if he has done that. I have my doubts about that."
The question of whether Rooney will play for United again is in some doubt. The player was carried from a Carrington training pitch with another ankle injury yesterday and will not play against Bursaspor in the Champions League at Old Trafford tonight.
The search is already under way for a replacement, with United fans likely to view the non-replacement of another totemic player as incontrovertible proof that the Glazers do not have the money to invest. United have already begun making discreet inquiries about Liverpool's Fernando Torres, who is hugely disillusioned at Anfield and now ready to leave, possibly as early as January – when it would also make most financial sense for Rooney to be sold.
Liverpool's new American owners have spelt out that they are not willing to pay inordinate wages and United may be ready to make an initial bid in January. Ferguson was interested in Torres before Rafael Benitez signed him in 2007 and the manager's renewed plans may explain why he was so furious about his comments on Torres feigning injury being translated into "cheat" headlines after United's 3-2 win over Liverpool on 19 September. Ferguson has not held a Friday press conference since.
That furore occurred over a month after a telephone call on 14 August in which Rooney's agent, Paul Stretford, told United chief executive, David Gill, that the player wanted to leave – just as Ferguson was beginning to consider a move for the 26-year-old Torres. First indications are that Liverpool may be willing to let Torres leave and that the club's new owners, John W Henry and Tom Werner, who have not been averse to their baseball stars leaving for potential rivals, may be ready to apply the same rationale at Anfield.
The Manchester City manager, Roberto Mancini, will be asked about Rooney for the first time at a press conference scheduled for 10am today to discuss the club's Europa League tie with Lech Poznan. The £221,000-a-week salary that will be commanded by City's Yaya Touré – a far less potent Premier League player than Rooney – is the one which has switched the striker on to the idea of leaving United. City have been happy to wait and watch the situation this week. But the club knew of the breakdown in talks just days after Stretford's call to Gill and would be likely to sell players to facilitate a move.
Ferguson accused Rooney of deliberately claiming that they had argued as a device to ease his departure from Old Trafford. "We've not had any argument, not a bit," he said. "I think that you have to understand the mechanics of these situations when people are working in terms of wanting to leave a club. It's an easy one to say you've fallen out with the manager. And I think there are traces of that."
Ferguson said, "the door is always open," for the 24-year-old, but clearly believes that the contract discussions will not resume. "There is no offer on the table, because they're not prepared to listen to an offer, but there's always an offer there from Manchester United to negotiate with a player, and that's still there," he said.
He holds Stretford accountable. "We're dealing with players whose agents live in their pockets. It's a different world we're in now and so we have to deal with it in a different way. It's a pity but it's there and we have to deal with it." After such a strong and eloquent blow from Ferguson in what has become a public battle this week, Rooney's representatives will be debating whether to respond, to counter the manager's comments.
Ferguson said United were devastated to hear of Rooney's decision in August, since he had indicated before the World Cup that he wanted to sign a new £150,000-a-week deal. Gill broke the news to him immediately.
"David phoned me and said he'd got a call from [Rooney's agent] saying that he wasn't going to sign a contract," Ferguson related. "So then David came across to see me. He said, 'I can't believe this'. Well, I couldn't believe it. I was just... dumbfounded. I could not understand it at all because only months before he was saying it's the greatest club in the world, he wanted to stay for life and we just don't know what's changed the boy's mind really in relationship to that."
The Spain-based law firm Ruiz Huerta y Crespo has been involved in every major Article 17 case to date and are the world's leading authority on the subject. The firm is not involved in the Rooney case but has confirmed toThe Independent Rooney could leave United under Article 17 as long as he met compensation requirements applicable to him, which have varied and evolved from case to case since Andy Webster first invoked the rule to leave Hearts in 2006.
Fergie on Rooney yesterday
On Rooney's reasons for wantingto leave Manchester United
"I can't answer the question why he is doing it. You can speculate and have opinions, but it won't matter simply because the player is adamant in saying that he wants to leave. We will deal with the next part of that as best we can. But we can't do more than we have done or said at the moment because, in my mind, we still have the door open and, who knows?"
On Rooney's injury situation
"Yes, he was injured. He was still carrying traces of that injury so why he came out and said [he wasn't] you can only guess yourself. It was disappointing because the other thing is when you know a player's form is down, you may say you are not playing him, that he has an injury, simply to protect him. In a lot of cases over the years we have done that. My idea [was] to galvanise him in terms of getting a proper break, get his fitness back, get rid of the ankle injury. Why he has come and said that I have no idea."
On reports of a falling out
"We've not had any argument. You have to understand these situations when people want to leave a club. It's an easy one to say you've fallen out with the manager. It's very easy to say that."
On the contract situation
"David [Gill, Manchester United chief executive] opened talks with his agent and that was to be continued after the World Cup. I was in the office in August and David phoned and said he'd got a call from [Rooney's] agent saying that he wasn't going to sign. Well I couldn't believe it. I was just dumbfounded. I could not understand it because only months before he was saying it's the greatest club in the world. We just don't know what's changed the boy's mind. I asked to have a meeting. He reiterated what his agent had said – that he wanted to go. I said to him, 'Well just remember one thing, respect this club. I don't want any nonsense from you. I don't know if he has done that. I have my doubts because, reading all these things about him falling out with me and that nonsense, it's disappointing. We have done everything we possibly can to help Wayne."
On his disappointment
"There is a sense of disappointment a lot of the time when you have to deal with modern-day players. It's not as easy as it was many, many years ago, before you had freedom of contract, because then the player had to trust and depend on the manager he worked for. And, I must say this, you had more contact with the parents or the father."
On the prospect of Rooney staying
"David Gill was prepared to offer the best terms offered to any player in this country. We realise and recognise the quality of the player, that's why negotiations were started early on in the summer, two years before his contract was up, to extend that contract."
On Manchester United's appeal
"It's a club that no one can deny is one of the most successful in British football. We have won 40 major trophies, countless cup finals, have a fantastic history, a great stadium, great training arrangements. It's a platform for anyone to take up a challenge here. There is incredible romance and we don't understand [why he wants to go]."
Taken from Ferguson's press conference yesterday and his interview with MUTV