United in their 'shock and disappointment' – the backlash begins

'Little Scouse lad' comes under fire from club legend as bids for Benzema and Villa prove Ferguson's willingness to spend

It was left to Lou Macari to extemporise on how it would have felt to be a Manchester United player an hour or so before kick-off on Wednesday night, as the football world was still digesting Wayne Rooney's written declaration that his team-mates are, frankly, not good enough.

"I have never known a player have the cheek to do what he has done," Macari said. "Had he been playing in the Seventies or Eighties, the players in the dressing room... well, they would have left him in no doubt and would have asked him just what he was playing at. They think they are good enough to win trophies. Does he not think that? It's a slight on his fellow professionals."

And of the notion of Rooney knocking on chief executive David Gill's door to tell him he doubted the "continued ability of the club to attract the best players in the world", as Rooney put it, Macari said: "I know some of the players who have come and gone: better players than Wayne Rooney. I have never known any of them to have the cheek to ask the people who run the best football club in the world what they are doing. I can't imagine this little Scouse lad going to David Gill or the manager and asking what is going on."

Such was the tenor of the backlash yesterday against Rooney's written explanation of his desire to leave, which has proved to be an unmitigated disaster, artful though it was in drawing attention away from money – to many fans the apparent reason for his intended departure – and onto United's decision (or "inability", as Rooney sees it) not to spend big.

The expectation had been that the United players would troop through Wednesday night's mixed zone, heads down, dodging the controversy, and if Rooney had not published his thoughts then maybe that's how it would have been. But one by one the players stopped, revealing in so doing that Ferguson's dressing room will never be the same again for as long as Rooney graces its four walls.

Patrice Evra's suggestion that Rooney should not play for United again was the most brutal assessment. But Darren Fletcher, who has also known the distraction of another club's attentions but prospered after declining the move to Everton two summers ago which might have given him more immediate football – seemed betrayed, too. "I think everyone is disappointed because we love Wayne as a team-mate and have so much respect for the manager," he said. "We have not known about [any of] this so it is just as much a shock to us as it is to everyone else."

The players were speaking at the end of one of the most extraordinary evenings Old Trafford had known. It is not such a "shock" to some of Rooney's confidantes as it was to Fletcher that the 24-year-old has harboured doubts about United's spending and that he has been mesmerised by Yaya Touré's extraordinary salary. (City sources have clarified that the figure is a little short of £200,000 a week, including all bonuses.) But "shock" seems to reflect Ferguson's feelings.

The manager again rebutted Rooney with surprising candour on Wednesday night, detailing how United actually had bid for a marquee player this summer, who proved unwilling to leave for England. That player was David Villa – a home bird where his own Spanish nation is concerned – whose departure from Valencia to Barcelona means that United have been beaten to the punch on transfers by a big Spanish side two summers running. Ferguson also sanctioned a £35m bid that matched Real Madrid's for Karim Benzema of Lyons the previous year that was accepted, only for the deal to fail because of the player's £200,000 wage demands, as The Independent revealed in May.

Benzema last summer; Villa this. The pattern of United's willingness to pay substantial sums for players contradicts the general notion, fuelled by Rooney, that the Glazers will not spend. It is where wages are concerned that United insist on imposing limits: this, in part, was why Carlos Tevez moved across Manchester and why Rooney, for whom £150,000 is not enough, is ready to move on.

In the economics of success, wages do matter. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski's book Soccernomics has extrapolated, through a study of the spending of 40 clubs, how hard outlay on transfers explained only 16 per cent of their variation in league position. Spending on salaries explains a massive 92 per cent of variation. It is why Manchester City, likely to overtake Chelsea next year to become the biggest spender on wages, are where they are. The word "wages", of course, dare not speak its name where Rooney is concerned – it would expose a significant reason why City might be such an attraction to him. But pay, rather than transfer market outlay, is at the heart of the issue in every way, with United's resolute determination to maintain a wage structure within their business plan looking increasingly brave.

Of course, no one takes issue with pay structures when you are winning. But United are neither champions nor a side with the look of champions-elect and the manager is trying to hold it together again. His riposte to Rooney on Wednesday night eloquently touched upon his ability to find, rather than buy, talent. "People don't identify talent; they're very poor at it. I've identified it all my life." But as the most intuitive words of Rooney's statement declared, Ferguson cannot "go on for ever". This is one four-year development cycle that Ferguson might not be around to see through. The performance of his youthful side against Bursaspor did not create the sense that the latest group of players is anywhere near ready.

Such are Rooney's most credible grounds for doubt about the future, though the way he has articulated those doubts had few such subtleties and leave him with equally few friends around Old Trafford. Fletcher suggested that he holds out hopes of talking Rooney out of his wanderlust. "I think I will try to change his mind but he is his own man, a determined person. I don't know if his mind is 100 per cent made up or not," the midfielder said. If Rooney's resolve was a source of doubt before the events of Wednesday night, it is now hard to see him heading anywhere but out of the Old Trafford gates.

Viewpoints: Managers' reaction to Rooney saga

Roy Keane

Players have opinions. If they want to leave, good luck. Manchester United will more than survive.

Arsène Wenger

It shows you how fragile the position of any club is, considering the contracts of players.

Alex McLeish

He has got years ahead of him. It is not my business but Sir Alex knows the best way to handle it.

Roberto Martinez

The times when players become attached to the football club and play for the shirt are long gone.

Steve Bruce

The power is all with the players and that is sad. It is very difficult for any club, even United.

Ian Holloway

The game is wrong. The people in charge are wrong. They are so wrong it is frightening.

Owen Coyle

Rooney and United are a tremendous fit. You don't want the best players leaving the League.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
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