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Column: Manchester United should have sold Wayne Rooney years ago

Wayne Rooney
(BPI/Imago/Icon Sportswire)

This past Sunday, Manchester United manager José Mourinho told Sky Sports that he would never sell club captain Wayne Rooney. Just two days later, ESPN and others reported that Mourinho is now open to the idea of selling Wayne Rooney. Well which is it?

Telling Rooney that he will need to leave to secure regular football isn’t a big deal. Quite frankly it’s the truth and even Rooney is smart enough to know that. He’s been dropped from the squad and while he’ll probably start a game and here and there, he’s not going to find himself on the bench more often than not.

When Mourinho spoke to Sky Sports on Sunday, he was asked if he would display the ruthlessness he showed at Chelsea and simply cut Rooney away. That’s when Mourinho said he would never sell a player with the history and club pedigree that Rooney he has.

To translate the whole situation. If Rooney wants to leave Mourinho won’t stand in his way. Not only would he sell him right away, he may even encourage it. However if Rooney doesn’t want to leave, Mourinho won’t be forcing Rooney out.

Except he should be. In fact, United should have forced Rooney out years ago. Specifically, they should have sold him following the 2013 season when not only was his value much higher, but when he was being coveted by Mourinho at Chelsea.

Rooney’s position at Manchester United started to fall apart a the end of the 2013 season. He got into another squabble with Sir Alex Ferguson that culminated with Rooney being left out of the squad in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final two games. Had Fergie stayed on for another year, Rooney certainly would not have been a part of the team.

It was almost as if Sir Alex Ferguson was trying to make just one last contribution to United. He had already delivered them their 20th league title and in his final month he was trying to send the club a sign. He was trying to tell them that they should move on from Wayne Rooney.

But of course that’s not what happened. Instead David Moyes took over and priority number one was getting Wayne Rooney to sign a new contract. At the time it made all the sense in the world. The recent Manchester United dynasty had been built on stars like Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Nemanja Vidic, and Rio Ferdinand.

By the time David Moyes took over, Ronaldo and Scholes were gone, while Giggs, Vidic, and Ferdinand were all aging terribly. Rooney, who was about to turn 28, was all that the club had left. He was the link between the future and Sir Alex Ferguson past.

Rooney responded and had a fantastic season. He scored 19 goals and had 22 assists in 40 games. It looked as if Moyes convincing him to stay was a brilliant decision. But that’s when the good times ended. In the two years under Louis van Gaal Rooney scored just 31 goals in all competitions. While Van Gaal’s system certainly handcuffed Rooney, it turns out that wasn’t the real issue.

The real issue was that Rooney was old, and he was deteriorating. At 28 years old it may not have seemed like it, but it’s important to remember that Rooney broke into the Premier League when he was just 16. When David Moyes took over Rooney was about to enter his twelfth professional season. In the previous 11 seasons, Rooney never made fewer than 37 appearances in all competition. He may have only been 28 years old but he had some serious miles on his legs.

We should have seen this coming. Sir Alex Ferguson certainly did and as always the lesson is you should probably listen to Sir Alex because in these situations he seems to know what he’s talking about.

At the time, we thought that Rooney and Ferguson just no longer got along and that Fergie was making a power play. We’d seen that several times before with past stars at Manchester United. But when you look at those players, Ferguson almost never had a falling out with a player who was still in his prime. It always seemed to happen right before right before the players form dipped off.

That’s the incredible part about Sir Alex Ferguson, similar to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Both are among the most successful leaders of their respective sports, and both seemed to know when a player had lost or was about to lose it. Both Ferguson and Belichick had a knack for getting rid of a player one year too early rather than one year too late.

That’s why Ferguson was exiling Rooney from the matchday squad. He was starting the process of Rooney leaving United. It starts by making the player look bad, this way the fans turn on him and aren’t upset when he gets sold. Ferguson wasn’t doing this because he got into a fight with Rooney. He did it because he knew Rooney was done.

Manchester United should have picked up on that and sold Rooney in 2013, even though they had lost Ferguson. Instead they held on to him, even giving him a new massive contract.

These days United are still paying for that contract in more ways than one. Rooney is the captain and it’s now a story whenever he starts a game or if he’s left on the bench. Mourinho wants to prove that he’s a different man now then what he used to be. Unfortunately for United, they could probably benefit from the old ruthless Mourinho cutting Rooney free.

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