The recent announcement that Wayne Rooney had signed a lucrative five-year contract with Manchester United, rumoured to be worth around £300,000 per week for the Liverpudlian, indicated the club’s determination, or maybe desperation, to prove that Old Trafford remains an attractive home for the most stellar names in football. The extension keeps Rooney at United until he is 33, which is undoubtedly a gamble, but it is one that Ed Woodward clearly felt the club simply had to take, as David Moyes sets about transforming the fortunes of his under-performing side. However, despite being one of United’s best performers in a hugely disappointing campaign, Rooney isn’t as indispensable as such a bountiful contract; which stipulates that Moyes must discuss transfer activity with the striker, and that he will become a club ambassador upon his retirement, suggests.
According to tabloid mathematics, the extension will cost United around £86million. Yet those who claim such extortionate figures mean the club should cut their losses have generally been met with one rebuttal; it would cost even more to replace Rooney. Gary Neville recently defended the club’s stance by stating, “The question you’ve got to ask is how much does it cost to replace him? And the market is demanding, for a player that has scored the goals he has scored in his 10 years at United, you’d be talking £50-£60m”.
The England coach, and others who share his view are indeed correct, replacing Rooney would be very expensive. The thing is, Manchester United have already done it. Having splashed out £37million on Juan Mata, three years the Scouser’s junior, and two-time Chelsea Player of the Year and £24million on Robin van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer in the past two seasons, the void that would have been left by Rooney’s departure have been filled.
It has long been, rather lazily, stated that ‘Manchester United are undoubtedly better with Wayne Rooney in the side than without him’ but the purchase of Mata, whom many supporters wish to see occupy a more central role, in any case, provides a serious challenge to this theory.
If it seems bizarre that David Moyes followed the club-record acquisition of a world-class playmaker, most comfortable in the Number 10 position, by making an older man, who wishes to occupy the same role, the highest-paid player in English football, a closer look at Mata and Rooney’s respective credentials only serves to make the Scotsman’s decision look more foolhardy.
Having been to the European Championships and Olympic Games, last season saw Juan Mata play 64 games for Chelsea and his haul of 20 goals indicates the Spaniard’s ability to avoid burn-out and maintain his performance level. The former Valencia man is of slender build, but has adapted to the rigours of the English game, while staying remarkably clear of injury. By contrast, Rooney’s bustling style leaves him susceptible to spending time on the treatment table, which has been a feature of nearly every one of his eleven seasons at Old Trafford.
In addition, last summer saw Sir Alex Ferguson express what was already clear to many observers; that Rooney’s ‘stocky frame [means] he must be worked very strongly to [maintain] his edge’. The England striker admitted as much himself in his latest book, stating “I’m stocky. I’m not like Ryan Giggs, all bone and muscle”. The constant struggle to reach maintain his fighting weight has had an adverse effect on Rooney’s ability to perform consistently throughout his career. It has played a major part in his inability to shine at multiple major international tournaments, and saw the striker benched for a considerable part of Ferguson’s final season.
Consequently, tying Rooney down until he is 33, by which time there is no telling how much of a handle he will have over his physical condition, while marginalising Mata, a more natural athlete, with an injury record David Moyes should feel a greater deal of confidence in relying on, doesn’t, on the face of it, appear a particularly shrewd move.
Even without the fitness concerns, there is a strong argument to suggest that Juan Mata is simply a better footballer than Wayne Rooney. That Jose Mourinho ousted the Spaniard due to concerns over his defensive diligence has seemingly caused many observers to forget just how good Mata’s performances since his arrival in England have been. 12 Premier League goals and 18 assists saw the World Cup winner nominated for PFA Player of the Year last season, while Rooney played a bit-part role as United strolled to the title. This season, while Mata warmed the Chelsea bench, and prior to his most recent injury, the 28-year-old was enjoying a fine run of form. This is likely Moyes’ justification for Rooney’s deployment in a more pivotal role than Mata, but the striker’s goal in last Saturday’s win over Crystal Palace was his first in seven apperances.
This relatively baron run is nothing out of the ordinary for the notoriously ‘streaky’ Scouser, but the startling dip in his performance levels when he isn’t in form are a worry for many United fans. All sorts of things can go wrong for players down on confidence and luck but, for a player so involved in his side’s build-up play, the way in which his sharpness and first touch can seemingly desert an off-form Rooney casts aspersions Moyes’ desire to rebuild his Manchester United empire around him. The striker’s atrocious display as England limped to an abject 0-0 draw with Algeria at the 2010 World Cup demonstrates the depths his performances can plumb, and Roy Hodgson waits in hope, rather than expectation, for a marked improvement, four years on.
In short, despite his resurgence this season, Rooney remains a loose cannon, equally liable to produce the woeful as the wondrous. Meanwhile, Mata is one of the most gifted players in the Premier League, with fantastic technique, tactical intelligence and an eye for goal, yet it is the former Everton man that David Moyes has entrusted with leading his Old Trafford revolution.
David Moyes’ stubborn insistence that Wayne Rooney would not leave Old Trafford, followed by the exceptionally generous contract afforded to the 28-year-old suggest that the Scot thought that securing his signature was an imperative part of his quest to rebuild Manchester United; a sentiment clearly echoed by Ed Woodward and the club’s directors. However, having sanctioned £37million to add Juan Mata to a squad already containing Shinji Kagawa, Adnan Januzaj, Robin van Persie, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, Woodward had unwittingly ensured the White Pele’s erratic concoction of perspiration and inspiration wouldn’t be sorely missed at Old Trafford. The deal showed that world-class players are still interested in joining the Red Devils, without the club being held to ransom over personal demands, all while providing Moyes with an upgrade on his creative fulcrum. It has been said that retaining the service of Wayne Rooney exemplifies the on-going strength of Manchester United, but in actual fact, letting him leave the club would have sent out a much more powerful message.