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The Wayne Rooney drama illustrates two things. One, that much of what has happened to Rooney is a replay of his past, the other that the modern world of football is a curious kind of business where players, managers, administrators and even owners have all developed their own distinctive agendas. Their demands for money are always clothed in a spurious sense of higher morality.

The only ones who have not written a new script for themselves are the fans. They still cling to their old faith and can only feel a sense of intense frustration that their loyalty is used, or rather misused, for such mercenary aims.

This Rooney saga is so similar to the drama that accompanied his move from Everton to Manchester United just before the transfer window shut in 2004 that it is almost uncanny. United fans assembled outside Rooney’s house this week, unhappy that he wanted to move, but they were not the first fan group to exert such pressure on him. Back in 2004, some Everton fans had taken to making anonymous threatening calls to his home late at night when it became clear he was leaving his boyhood club.

Rooney has had recent personal problems, including allegations of using prostitutes. But, back in the summer of 2004, he also had similar problems. Euro 2004 had made him a celebrity but then the tabloids revealed that he had visited prostitutes. That revelation was said to have led to a crisis in his relationship with Coleen, then his girlfriend. Such was her reported anger that she was said to have thrown Rooney’s engagement ring away.

Two years later, when Rooney wrote his autobiography, he denied that she did any such thing. But he did admit that she was very upset after it emerged that he had visited massage parlours. Rooney’s explanation was that this had happened when he was a 16 year old, not long after he had met Coleen, and was still going out with his old mates.

But, in 2004, the story clearly rattled Rooney and, to this day, Everton believe that was the trigger for his decision to leave Merseyside. Before that Bill Kenwright, the chairman, and David Moyes, the manager, had had several meetings with Rooney’s agent, Paul Stretford, and Kenwright was ready to offer a five-year deal worth £50,000 ($79,000) a week, more than three times what he was then earning.

A week after Everton made the offer, Freddie Shepherd, then in charge of Newcastle, rang Kenwright, offering to write out a cheque there and then for £20 million ($32 million). But, although Kenwright put up a “not for sale” sign, Rooney had decided to go.

On August 30, a Monday, the day before the transfer window closed, Everton were due at Old Trafford. On the previous Friday, Stretford rang Kenwright, announcing that he was ringing from the Everton training ground. Rooney did not like the publicity and wanted out.

Rooney himself came on the phone and said in a tearful voice: “Please Mr Kenwright, you have got to let me go. I have got to go.” Within an hour Rooney had given Moyes a transfer request. As Kenwright told me later: “We could not keep the boy. He wanted to go.”

At this stage Rooney was prepared to go to Newcastle, and the player told Ian Ross, Everton’s head of publicity, that he felt Newcastle was a bigger club than Everton. It was only on Saturday morning, two days before Manchester United hosted Everton, that United’s chief executive, David Gill, rang Kenwright declaring the club’s interest in Rooney.

The deal was done in Ferguson’s room after the match on Monday. Kenwright, aware that Chelsea had just signed Didier Drogba for £24 million ($38 million), knew that United was the only game in town. But he also knew that Ferguson was determined not to miss out – back in 1988 Ferguson had lost Gascoigne to Tottenham, then, in the 1990s, twice lost Shearer, once to Blackburn, once to Newcastle.

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But, for the money men at Old Trafford this caused a problem. While everybody at United agreed that Rooney should be bought, they had not planned to buy him then. Indeed, in mid August, Gill had been quoted as saying that it would be “bad business” to sign Rooney for £30 million ($47 million).

The problem was that United had spent their transfer budget for that summer. The money men’s answer was to pay for Rooney out of the following year’s budget. Manchester United opened with an offer of £18 million ($29 million). Kenwright was determined to get as near as he could to £30 million ($47 million).

After a couple of hours of negotiations it was agreed that Manchester United would pay £20 million ($32 million). A further £3 million ($5 million) was also guaranteed.

In addition, £4 million ($6 million) was conditional on United winning or achieving certain positions and the number of appearances Rooney made for England. In the end, Everton got just over £25 million ($40 million) but will also get a cut when United part with him.

Six years later Ferguson played it very differently. His Tuesday press conference revealing the state of play with Rooney was the sort of media management his great friend, Alastair Campbell, if not Peter Mandelson, would have been proud of. The golden rule in football in negotiations with players, whether you are buying or trying to keep a player, is to pretend nothing is happening. Then, when the deal is done and dusted, you suddenly produce the player like a conjuror at the Palladium. Instead, Ferguson played the sort of bereaved uncle that might have come out of a Chekhov play, and kept referring to 25-year-old Rooney as the boy on whom he had lavished love, only to be rejected.

Ferguson’s deliberate decision to go public meant that the crisis broke at a very inconvenient time for Rooney when, with the transfer window shut, it was not easy to do a deal with another club. This may have provoked Rooney to issue his statement, I suspect drafted by Stretford, talking of United’s lack of ambition. He could not have said anything more loaded or fatal.

No word in modern football is more misused than the word “ambition”. For fans the word gives a simple message to the board: tell us how you intend to win trophies for the club. In the hands of players, or for that matter managers, it has dual meaning. Whenever a player or manager wants to negotiate a new deal, they talk of a club’s ambition or rather its lack of it. They know by using that word they will link up with fans.

But, when they tell the club “show me your ambition”, what they really mean is “show me the ambition of your cheque book”. It could not be a more naked demand for money without actually using the word.

Now that Rooney has changed his mind and is staying, Old Trafford would have us believe that everyone is a winner. Rooney walks away with a fat new contract, apologises to Ferguson and his fellow players, and Old Trafford can present the deal as a little family quarrel where nobody was really hurt.

But it does not resolve the power struggle between management and players. Yes, it could be argued that Ferguson re-established old fashioned managerial power. But then no other manager could have pulled it off, as there is almost nobody quite like Ferguson in modern football. He has the sort of control over his club that few other managers have.

Also, at United, the old tradition of long-serving players still exists. Many of the so-called kids who proved Alan Hansen wrong and won honours, such as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, are still there in the sort of long service that is now a rarity in football.

And there are two possible losers from this saga. Much will be made of the fact that Rooney’s agent will not get the multi-million commission he could have got had his player moved.

Back in 2004, Rooney’s move to Old Trafford meant he pocketed £1.5 million ($2.3 million), more than the levy paid to the Premier League on the transfer deal. But, having negotiated a new deal which will pay Rooney millions until the age of 30, I am sure he will be rewarded.

The more substantial loser could be the Glazers. When Rooney talked of lack of ambition, he immediately linked up with the vociferous anti-Glazer fans who remain convinced that the Americans are destroying their club. His decision to stay has been presented as a climb down by the Glazers.

The owners have always given Ferguson a free hand when it comes to dealing with players. Soon after they arrived, the Roy Keane saga took place. I remember many in football wondering why the Glazers did not intervene. A British owner would have. But that was not the American way. They left it to Ferguson and it has been ever thus.

However, I do wonder if they had second thoughts on this strategy when, on Tuesday, they turned on their screens and found Ferguson sounding off. It meant a transfer that might have been negotiated quietly in January, as was the case with Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2009, was now impossible. The Ronaldo sale and the £80 million ($127 million) it fetched came in very handy for the Glazers. Rooney’s new contract means money going out, not coming in, and they might not thank Ferguson for that.

      

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