Wayne Rooney was visited at his home in Cheshire last night by militant Manchester United fans who carried a banner that read "Join City and you will die" – the latest twist in the saga that has followed the player's shock decision not to sign a new contract at the club.
Up to 30 fans, some wearing balaclavas, descended on Rooney's house in the village of Prestbury where they tried to persuade the player to come out to speak with them. Rooney refused but witnesses suggested that he came to one of the windows of his home having called Cheshire police at around 8.30pm.
A spokesman for Cheshire police said that the group "dispersed peacefully" after officers were sent from the nearby Macclesfield police station. There was no suggestion that the incident turned violent, although it is thought that Rooney's home telephone was called by one member of the group who tried to persuade him to come outside.
The incident came after five remarkable days at United. After Sir Alex Ferguson promised to "put the matter to bed" on Wednesday night, the club released a statement last night that said the resolution of further talks would "become clear in the near future" prompting suggestions in some quarters that they might even be able to persuade Rooney to change his mind about leaving the club.
It is not the first time that militant United supporters' groups have used direct action with players who have refused to sign contracts. They did the same with Rio Ferdinand when he prevaricated over signing a new deal in 2005. In his autobiography, Ferdinand recalled "more than 20 geezers with baseball caps and hoods on" who he confronted having climbed onto a wall outside his house.
A spokesman for Cheshire police last night said: "I can confirm that at 8.30pm a call was received from a resident in Prestbury regarding 20 to 30 people assembling outside their address. Police attended the scene and the group dispersed peacefully. No offences were committed."
Earlier yesterday talks between Ferguson, his chief executive David Gill and Rooney's agent Paul Stretford had not yet reached a decisive conclusion. "A number of meetings have taken place today, including with the player's representative," the statement said. "The outcome of those meetings will become clear in the near future. In the meantime, fans are asked to be patient."
The incident outside Rooney's home came after his team-mate Patrice Evra said that the striker should be frozen out at United over his public declaration that the club have not signed players who can make them competitive. Evra said: "If one player does not trust the other players, that player should not play. I am not like that as I trust everyone and I know we can win."
The talks yesterday followed Ferguson's promise to draw a line under the "bagatelle", as he described the saga on Wednesday evening. That took some at United by surprise but Ferguson's revelation that Gill had contacted United owners the Glazers on Wednesday did demonstrate that a quick resolution to the problem was being urgently pursued.
The potential solutions include some kind of temporary rapprochement with Rooney or agreement on a new contract which would take Rooney close to £200,000 a week and make United competitive with City. Alternatively, there may be the announcement of mutual agreement that Rooney will be allowed to leave. Considering the Glazers are being consulted, the latter seems by far the most likely.
Rooney's former team-mate Carlos Tevez added fuel to the fire last night, with those close to the player suggesting that he told Manchester City's owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan that "with Wayne we will win everything". Ferguson has cancelled his Friday press conference today – for the fourth successive week.