"Just be a man, put cha name on it." -- Herm Edwards
Late Monday, part-time T.O.P. contributor Jared Dunn put forth the suggestion in the comments section of my EPL Monday post:
"I think this whole Rooney saga is a conspiracy between the league, press, and Fergie/Roons to generate some fake drama to help mask the fact that the product on the pitch so far this season has been stone cold booooooring."
At the time, it seemed like a valid idea to float around. It's since been proven a bit incorrect since now Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone else involved in what's rapidly becoming, the English tabloid/sporting media version of the perfect storm, that indeed the one-time 'Boy Wonder' want out at Old Trafford.
In journalistic terms, this story has established the four, classic "Ws" -- who, what, where and when. What's missing is that fifth, juiciest, most interesting "W" -- the why?
Why does Rooney seem hell bent of wearing something other than the famous red shirt?
Tuesday, Sir Alex -- that sly old dog -- certainly deflected the blame from himself and any possible falling out between he and Rooney:
"We've never had any argument, not a bit. I think you have to understand the mechanics of these situations when people want to leave the club. It's an easy one to say he's fallen out with the manager, a very easy one to say. I think there are traces of that too."
Now, do you personally believe Ferguson? Or anyone in this whole saga? Did the sly old Scot spin the story make Rooney look like the bad guy?
Rooney is playing it very close to the vest, without saying anything that we can look and or listen to and try to decode.
Earlier Tuesday, restlesss and unable to sleep, so I flipped on FSC which was running Sky Sports' take on the story. The package included a press conference from Ipswich Town manager Roy Keane, who himself famously fell-out with Ferguson. Keane said Rooney, "has to look out for No. 1."
And since we're on the subject of conspiracy theories, here's mine ... and it's not that scandalous or anything. Rooney just wants to get paid. P-A-I-D.
Dial Rasheed Wallace and cut that check.
Think about the facts:
1. Rooney may or may not have recovered from that ankle injury from the March Champions League match with Bayern.
1a) His form has fallen off the cliff.
(We can't devalue how good actually Rooney was, up until the injury since he even scored vs. the Germans before limping off. It hasn't ceased to amaze me how Rooney has gone from a threat on every touch of the ball, to a broken down nobody.)
2. He's only 24, but it's an ooooold 24. Like some of those NBA players who jumped straight from high school to the NBA, there's a lot of mileage on those legs. At an age while some American or journeyman foreign players are still plugging away in the NCAA, Rooney has logged 260 professional club matches, and a whopping 67 internationals.
For some context, 23-year-old U.S. international Michael Bradley is at 150 club games and 50 internationals. Stuart Holden, a year older, has but 111 total on his resume. Better yet, Steven Gerrard, now 30, has 373 games for Liverpool and 88 for England and Gerrard is a workhorse and playing nearly 60 club games a season, yet Rooney has 70 percent of his game total in six less years.
Remember this, too, since debuting for Everton five days before his 17th birthday in 2002, he's basically gone non-stop, twice rushing back from injuries before the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, instead of a summer of rest. In the immortal words of Lou Brown from "Major League," ... "even tough guys get sprains, muscle pulls." ... It makes you wonder: how much punishment can the body withstand, especially with a player like Rooney who always goes 110 mph.
3. Manchester United's debt and cost-cutting means the club likely won't be able to afford to offer him a massive, mega-contract when his deal runs out in 2012. With all the endorsements and career earnings, you'd think Rooney has a pretty big nest egg.
However, if his body is all used up, how much more can he earn as a player. If you want to take the conspiracy even further, don't forget those prickly prostitute rumors. If his marriage to Colleen falls apart he's looking at a lot of alimony, assuming his pre-nup isn't lock solid.
3b) Sir Alex himself is 68 years old. He's not going to control the United dressing room forever. Okay, he could put on a pair of Coke-bottle glasses and become Northwest England's version of Joe Paterno.
If you add it all up, it's pretty simple why Rooney -- or more specifically his set of agents and handlers -- would want to float this story and get it out there. Don't underrate this whispers from people inside Rooney's camp trying to say what's best for him. In his weakened mental state, he's very vulnerable to bad advice and remember, it's not like he's on a provisional MENSA membership program, either.
The longer Rooney waits, the more listless, half-speed matches he plays, the more his value drops. As it stands right now, he's still a "name", he's still starring in ads for "FIFA 11" (*), he's still a big Ron Burgundy-esque deal who'd sell millions of dollars/pounds/Euros of replica shirts. Even in the midst of seventh-month goal-drought, Rooney's retained his place on unofficial "Top Five Players in the World" list, even if its an artificial place.
(*) A random thought: Who are the most well-known current soccer players to English-speaking Americans? David Beckham and Landon Donovan for certain. Then maybe (still) Freddy Adu, Cristiano Ronaldo and probably Rooney. The news Tuesday even made "The Lead" designation on ESPN's bottomline.
What we don't know is if Rooney has hit the terminal decline in form and use, or it's a temporary dip? Is he trying to force the issue before the world catches on, that's he's no longer the pint-sized, T-Rex-armed, balding madman who terrorized England and continental Europe? It would be shocking, yes, that a 24-year-old lost it all in a matter of months, but it's entirely plausible within the context of soccer.
Monday -- or was it Sunday? -- I posed the question, which American athlete Rooney's sudden, jarring drop in form most resembled? "Drewdat" suggested Tiger Woods, and that's a pretty good parallel.
The more you think about it, the more calculating and Machiavellian this scenario gets, the more it resembles LeBron James decision to leave Cleveland for Miami earlier this summer. When you strip away all the "Decision" related bullshit from James seeming betrayal, it boiled down to LeBron wanting to a) play with his buddies and b) get paid in the process. Okay, winning probably was a factor, too. (And before you chime in, yes, it would be a more apt comparison if Rooney were still at Everton.)
Rooney, of course, will never utter the immortal words of, "taking his talents to South Beach," although a move from Manchester United to Manchester City -- now with its mega oil-money -- is almost as nefarious as going from Cleveland to Miami.
Until Rooney opens his mouth, out-in-the-open and addressees the situation, all we can do is watch as the ever-reliable English media fans the tabloid flames.
[UPDATE -- Wednesday Rooney essentially laid the blame lay on the club's inability to compete with the financial big boys anymore to win trophies. He also discounted a fall-out with Ferguson.]