Manchester United will wait until the conclusion of the World Cup in July before beginning contract talks in earnest with Wayne Rooney, which suggests they believe there is categorically no risk of a superb tournament with England leading to more wealthy clubs enticing him away later this summer.
United's chief executive David Gill said in January that a new deal for Rooney, who is expected to increase his basic £90,000-a-week salary at Old Trafford to more than £150,000, would be tied up no earlier than July and the first reports from Spain of Real Madrid's interest in the striker have not changed the picture. The club are clearly convinced that there is no prospect of Rooney becoming pessimistic about United's prospects of regaining domestic and European ascendancy if other clubs outspend United this summer. For his part, Sir Alex Ferguson hinted at a summer of transfer activity when he indicated on Tuesday night that there was need to "freshen up" the squad.
Rooney declared after receiving the fans and players' player of the year award on the same evening that Manchester United have only themselves to blame if they don't win the title this weekend, having blown the chance to capitalise on other teams' weaknesses to win one of the most open Premier League title races.
"All the top teams have lost games. If we could have stayed more consistent and not lost so many games we would have won the League," he said. "We shouldn't be losing seven games at this club. Other teams have dropped points as well so it has been an open league."
Rooney reflected on how two years of practice have contributed to him scoring far more goals with his head. "I've been practising those for two years now and I never thought I would score headers consistently but I had a great run in the middle of the season when I scored 10 in about 11 or 12 games. It is good when your hard work pays off," he said. He believes there is "still hope" that Wigan may deny Chelsea a point and allow United to take the title by defeating Stoke City at Old Trafford on Sunday.
In an interview for Match of the Day magazine, he declared that the United player he most likes to play with is Antonio Valencia. "I couldn't have scored the amount of goals I have this season without him. He's been great this year and the quality of balls he puts in the box for me has been unbelievable." Rooney also confirmed the story of how he has taught his wife's parents' parrot to say his son Kai's name: "It was funny at first, but now it just won't shut up."
United's Ben Foster has accepted he will have to leave Old Trafford to revive his career. "If you leave this club you are only ever going to go down," he said. "But I want to be playing football. I am not interested in just hanging around and I would go if the club wanted to sell me." A loan move to Birmingham City seems a possibility, with Joe Hart back at Manchester City.
Gary Neville agreed with Rooney that United must shoulder the blame if their attempt for a record fourth successive league title fails on Sunday. "When you leave it in the hands of others, you have to take the punishment for it," he said.