It was of course at the end of the season that Sir Alex Ferguson revealed that Rooney had asked to leave, even though his camp insisted that he had never asked for a transfer away from Old Trafford. Nonetheless there was reason to suspect that Rooney wanted out, after a season in which his importance to the club was downgraded seriously.
Ferguson did not pick Rooney for the biggest games, such as against Real Madrid in the Champions League, and made disparaging comments about the player’s fitness. However the arrival of David Moyes has thrown a new dynamic into the equation. Moyes set his stall out at the start of his reign by insisting he wanted to keep Rooney and that the player was not for sale. That was a challenge to Chelsea and Jose Mourinho, who have been interested in the player for some time.
Chelsea now want to sign Rooney not just because he would bolster a weak attack, but probably because for Mourinho it represents a chance to get one over on Moyes before the season has even started. The Portuguese is no doubt looking at the situation and seeing an opportunity to destabilise a major title threat and undermine Moyes from the start of his reign at Old Trafford. Whatever his public pronouncements, Mourinho no doubt is irked that he missed out on the job at Manchester United to Moyes, and given the way he has behaved towards Barcelona since being overlooked for the job there in 2008, you can be sure he is looking to get one over on United for spurning him.
In that regard, the Rooney chase takes on a whole new dynamic. This is not just about matters on the pitch but a mark of psychological warfare. Has Moyes made a grave error in setting out his stall for a player, in Rooney, whom he subsequently described to the press as vital as back up in case Robin van Persie gets injured? It would seem so – particularly given that Rooney was already unsettled seemingly at Old Trafford. With the player, according to reports, increasingly desperate to leave, Moyes faces a major battle on his hands now to retain the Englishman or to cover up his failure to ensure Rooney stays. In footballing terms United shouldn’t be worried – their squad is extremely strong and they have better players than Rooney. Shinji Kagawa for one, is a better prospect in the position behind van Persie, who is a more reliable striker, and Chelsea will have to whip Rooney into shape physically. Rooney at times is lethargic and can appear disinterested when things are going wrong – will Chelsea really be getting value for money with him? This could be one of those intriguing transfers, where United would benefit more in footballing terms but Chelsea could gain a psychological edge over one of their main rivals.