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After two days of speculation over the future of Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex Ferguson says that the striker is staying put, despite being dropped to the bench for Manchester United's defeat to Real Madrid. Yet the speculation has not been pointless.
First, we must always be careful about taking Ferguson's word on anything. What matters to him is not the truth but what benefits United and, even with a commanding Premier League lead, it is in the club's interest to endure as little disruption as possible in the coming months - not least as they pursue the Double.
Such is Ferguson's longevity that the "Youse idiots" rant over Juan Sebastian Veron, after journalists suggested the soon-to-be cut-price Argentinian was struggling, is more than a decade ago. The principle that he regards the media as stenographers not independent reporters had long been apparent then and that is the case all the more now, in a season when the Scot has banned journalists for accurate stories about player injuries.
Given the modern transfer window structure, Rooney will be at Old Trafford for the rest of the season except in the highly unlikely circumstances that he pulls a George Best. He may well be with the club come September but it would be as well to remember the source for this information, just as denials of interest by Manchester City should be treated as such rather than as statements of fact.
What the recent coverage has emphasised is the nature of the gilded cage Rooney agreed to enter when he chose to snub City in exchange for a massive pay increase in the autumn of 2010. At the time I suggested that his new contract, in excess of £250,000 a week, might militate against the purchase of other players whose acquisition would nullify his purported grounds for unhappiness. It took a while for such a deal to materialise and the resurrection of Paul Scholes, alongside the remarkable preservation of Ryan Giggs, demonstrated the shortage of quality in key areas even as Ferguson extracted so much from his squad. But the arrival of Robin van Persie, a fellow forward, last summer showed United could now make a signing of the right calibre despite both the Glazer-imposed burden and the lesser one that followed from Rooney's new terms.
The Dutchman's rejection of City's overtures echoed Rooney's. The newcomer's goals have elevated United above their rivals, giving them not only a substantial lead but record points totals. Rooney the club man should exult; but in the process Van Persie has been exalted above him in importance to the club, even if the former Arsenal striker has been less prolific of late. Meanwhile, Danny Welbeck's education and maturation continue.
You do not need the whole bunch of jokers at Roberto Mancini's disposal but no club of United's stature, with multiple ambitions at the start of a season, can rely on a single star striker. Van Persie's injury-troubled past would make such a policy more of a folly. There is plenty of room for Rooney at United and if he comes into form and his Dutch partner fades then all this talk may seem emptier come May.
The past few days have served as a reminder to Rooney and to us, though, that if you want to be paid more than £12m a year then there are relatively few clubs where you can play, and looming financial fair play will reduce that number further should the teeth in Michel Platini's grin not prove false. Rooney will probably be a United player next season, and he can cry all the way to the bank should he be in any discomfort. But if, as he approaches his 28th birthday in October, he finds himself coming off the bench on a regular basis, then he may remember the advice to be careful what you wish for.
Betteridge's law of headlines - Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'No'. Just saying.- lester210