Wayne Rooney contract: David Moyes told striker he had gone 'a bit soft' before convincing him to sign new £300,000-a-week deal with Manchester United

The England striker has agreed a new five-and-a-half-year deal at Old Trafford as Moyes leaves the door open for him to take the captaincy when Nemanja Vidic departs

Manchester United manager David Moyes has described how a management strategy of brutal honesty with Wayne Rooney – which included telling him he had “gone soft” as a player – triggered the turnaround which has seen the 28-year-old sign a new £300,000-a-week Old Trafford deal.

After a summer in which Rooney had used intermediaries to make clear his deep unhappiness at United, Moyes made the bold – potentially high risk - move of inviting him to his house in Preston, Lancashire, and telling him: “if you ask me what's missing...I think you've gone a bit soft,” as the 52-year-old put it on Friday.

“I thought he hadn't been the hard-working, aggressive player he was,” Moyes related, hours after final image rights negotiations were concluded to see Rooney’s new five-and-a-half year deal signed.

“I think I said: ‘I’ve watched you. I’ve not been your manager. I just think you had better get back to the old aggressive Wayne Rooney’. And I think he thought ‘Yes, maybe that’. What he had to get to was a level of fitness where he was able to produce again. And I think that’s what he has done. Now, in games, people are saying 'look at the effort he's putting in'. It's his work-rate, not just for himself but for the team. He's become an all-round team player who is also a technically gifted footballer.”

The personal challenge laid down to Rooney has been only one reason for the volte face from a player who was desperate to join Jose Mourinho at Chelsea during the summer. Back then, the £250,000-a-week footballer let it be known that his feelings had been hurt by comments Moyes made in a newspaper briefing on the club’s pre-season tour - a claim for which there was minimal, going on for no, justification.

 

But money has talked - just as it did in October 2011 when his last contract was signed - and imbuing Rooney with supreme status – privy to the club’s list of transfer targets and earmarked as captain when Nemanja Vidic departs this summer – has been deeply significant. When Juan Mata arrived for £37m, there was no question that the Spaniard would play behind Robin van Persie, in Rooney’s preferred role. In effect, the strategy has been to rebuild United around a player who will now command more money than any other Premier League player. The club could scarcely have offered him more enticement to stay.

Moyes insisted on Friday that the question of Rooney’s captaincy would be deferred until the close season. “Yes it's possible but I wouldn't want to say until the summertime."

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Wayne Rooney pictured training for Manchester United

He also said that the line of argument put to Rooney this summer – namely that he could become a part of Old Trafford lore as the club’s all-time greatest goalscorer if he stayed – had worked. “I do [believe that helped],” Moyes said. “I think that’s behind it. I think that to be a legend at Manchester United is something where you are associated with this club for the rest of your life. I think some of the great players will be legends at this club. We take legends and some of the people with us on the tours, everywhere we go. The one thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is that no-one wants to leave Manchester United very quickly. Because they know once you leave here it’s not the same.

“For Wayne, I think he’s recognised - my goodness - people like Bobby Charlton, George Best and the way those big stars are seen here. Wayne’s next thing is that we have to keep challenging him to get those goals, make those big targets. Make them the things you want to achieve.”

Now comes the acid test of Rooney’s loyalty – his willingness to take the probable drop out of Champions League football which lies ahead. United have only 12 games left to make good the 11-point lead established by fourth-placed Liverpool and even Moyes admitted last night that it was a tall order. “Well, at the moment it’s still a long way away. We’re well off the pace,” he said. “We have to hope that teams slip up. That’s all we can do. “I’ll answer your questions [on the Europa League] when I get that. The one thing about football is you can’t guarantee you’ll be at the top. You have to earn that right to be there.”

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