On Tuesday lunchtime, the Wayne Rooney 'saga' appeared to be put to bed by a leak to journalists stating that our hero would not hand in a transfer request at Manchester United. Jose Mourinho's temptress act has apparently not worked, but Rooney didn't voice his apparent desire to stay at United via a club statement, or another interview on MUTV, but in the same way this whole thing has been played out. Whispers, back-channels, nothing official, all very hush hush but of course not hush hush at all.
The previous evening, this player who has made it patently clear, via the deniable megaphone of assorted willing journalists, that he wants to leave Manchester United, was given a rapturous reception by the Manchester United fans. Not just as one of the boys - his name was cheered the loudest when it was announced. One's instinct was to scoff, to wonder why the spurned masses were welcoming this man who doesn't want to play in front of them anymore. Mourinho's instinct was the opposite, to comment that this must be an extraordinary club for the fans to react in that way.
This sort of thing isn't specific to Manchester United, mind. Only the most delusional Arsenal or Liverpool fans didn't know Cesc Fabregas and Steven Gerrard, to one extent or other, wanted out, but their support did not seem to dim. Indeed, when Pierre van Hooijdonk returned from his strike at Nottingham Forest all those years ago, he was welcomed as a returning hero by a section of the home support. This was even after manager Dave Bassett had commented: "If you see him walking funny, you'll know where we've stuck his olive branch."
So why does a fan so enthusiastically cheer a man who wants to leave? We are constantly told that fans value loyalty, so when a player displays the very opposite of that most sainted and mythical quality, why are they lauded?
It's possible that it's as simple as a 'get behind the lads' attitude, that anyone wearing the chosen shirt is automatically lauded, a point of view which has a certain degree of logic, but does reek of 'staying together for the kids' - we're going to ignore the wider issues here and chug on regardless, looking away from that elephant in the corner.
The old 'if Saddam Hussein was scoring goals' theory fits here, too. Basically fans will put up with most things if someone is playing well for their team, so merely asking to leave is pretty small fry. So does that mean if Rooney starts playing badly, he'll be booed? Possibly, but it doesn't seem that likely.
Perhaps it's a collective act of positivity designed to try and change someone's mind. After all, 75,000 people screaming your name could be quite persuasive. Of course, the idea that a player does anything 'for the fans' is a quaint and unfortunately quite erroneous one, as I wrote about at more length here.
Players who actually succeed in leaving a club are generally not particularly well-received when they return in the colours of someone else. Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham were of course welcomed 'home' like darling sons, but that sort of thing is a rarity, particularly when a player has tried to force his way out of a club. The list of players treated as pariahs at their old club is as long as the United v Chelsea snoozefest felt.
Rooney is yet to force his way out, but he's made it pretty clear that in an ideal world, he'd be somewhere else in September. So what's the difference between him and, say, Fernando Torres, who left Liverpool because he didn't want to play for them anymore? Both men wanted to leave for a perceived rival, and it's only circumstances beyond their control that divides them. In one case the club were willing to sell, albeit for an enormous price, but in the other the club aren't. Neither situation has anything to do with the player's intentions.
It's not even that players like Rooney should be given the fearsome bird by the home crowd, but he was actively and very vocally welcomed with an almost primal roar. And this was before the game too, before he had chance to demonstrate his commitment by running around an awful lot.
It's no wonder that some footballers feel they can do what they like when, even after making it perfectly clear a club isn't good enough for them, they're treated like heroes.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter
By quite clear, you mean "stated he didn't put in a transfer request, immediately after Fergie insisted he did, then proceeded to say nothing all summer, then put in a Man of the Match performance for United on his next appearance" ? Yes, I think that quite clearly indicates that the man wanted to leave. That is the only possible logical conclusion. Well done.- red_devil83