Manchester United could risk losing Wayne Rooney for nothing in order to keep him out of their Premier League rivals' hands, with his current contract set to expire at the end of next season.
Rooney’s £250,000-a-week deal poses a problem for United, who face entering negotiations over an extension at the same time as potentially missing out on Champions League qualification. Given the 3-1 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday, that prospect of playing Europa League football next season is looking more and more likely as the weeks go by.
Should they qualify for the Europa League via the Capital One Cup, they will have to play in a qualification round at the end of July, with the possibility of such an event currently delaying the announcement of a planned pre-season tour of North America.
Rooney was the subject of two bids from Chelsea last summer, with Jose Mourinho making no secret of his desire to take the 27-year-old England international to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea are believed to be prepared to test United’s resolve this summer, when Rooney will have just 12 months left on his deal.
However, United have reportedly decided that keeping Rooney for next season would be more fruitful in their attempt to return to the Champions League should they miss out this year, instead of cashing in on any transfer value that would interest clubs such as Chelsea, Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid.
Failure to secure Champions League football is unlikely to do anything to help in securing Rooney to a new deal, and he could also look into the possibility of buying out the final year of his contract for around £13m in the summer – a figure he could then easily command in an inflated signing-on fee given his standing as a free agent should he choose to do so.
United though will remain vigilant in their will to hold onto the striker, having seen Liverpool do the same with Luis Suarez despite the best efforts of both the player and Arsenal to force a move. Suarez went on to sign a new long-term contract to remain at Anfield.
Rooney was believed to have pushed for an Old Trafford exit towards the end of last season, according to former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but his subsequent retirement and the arrival of David Moyes looked to have calmed relations between the player and the club. Rooney went on to have a terrific start to the season, looking to be nearing his fearsome best, but a persistent groin injury has derailed that run in recent weeks.
Rooney was rated 50/50 for Wednesday’s League Cup semi-final second leg against Sunderland, and given United’s poor finishing at Chelsea until the game was gone, Moyes could choose to risk the striker even though he is significantly short on match fitness in an attempt to overturn a 2-1 deficit.
The fifth-placed side in the Premier League will qualify for the Europa League play-offs, which take place at the end of August, and would allow United to embark on a lucrative tour of the United States that will coincide with their new Chevrolet shirt sponsorship deal.
Bayern Munich will also be in America at the time to take on the Major League Soccer All-Stars, and United’s arrival would set-up the possibility of an all-European clash across the Atlantic. However, both sides are likely to be without their World Cup stars for the tour, meaning names such as Rooney and Robin van Persie would likely remain at home as they will be given an extra month off following the completion of Brazil 2014.