Manchester United didn’t do much right during their first transfer window of the post-Alex Ferguson era. In fact it could be argued that the club only did one thing right from the time David Moyes took office on July 1st until the summer window closed on September 2nd. Moyes’ ability to convince Wayne Rooney to stay at Manchester United while fighting off interest in the player from Premier League rivals Arsenal and Chelsea has saved Manchester United’s season.
Millions of people across the globe watched the latest matchup between Manchester United and Arsenal this weekend. Going into the match, not many would have given the Red Devils a chance at beating the Gunners after the recent showings from each club.
Arsenal was coming off two huge wins in their previous two matches. They beat Liverpool in convincing fashion at the Emirates, 2-0, then followed that up with the biggest road win in club history when they shutout Borussia Dortmond and snatched a 1-0 decision in the Westfalenstadion.
United entered the match with Arsenal after a mid-week nil-nil draw with Real Sociedad in the Champions League which was preceded by a 3-1 victory at Fulham. United opened the match in London with a magical 22-minute spell which saw the club blast three goals past the Cottagers. But then United settled into the form that their supporters have come all too accustomed to seeing…inconsistent.
The only thing consistent about Manchester United this season has been the play of Wayne Rooney. While the focus and determination of the players as a whole has wavered during the early part of the season, Rooney has played with a renewed passion and intent.
His willpower was in full display against the Gunners. The forward covered every blade of grass on the afternoon as he harassed Arsenal defenders, battled the their midfield, and pitched in to help United’s previously porous defense. Rooney’s highlight moment was his delivery to Robin van Persie for United’s opening goal in the 27th minute.
Rooney played every minute of the match against Arsenal and it could be argued that his pre-match comments and in-game actions drove his club to their best 90-minute performance in over a year.
Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher had this to say about Rooney following the match with Arsenal: “Rooney is the reason why they’re only five points behind this season because United have been poor.
“It’s not the vintage United we’ve seen of old and there are a lot of players who haven’t performed, but he’s the one who’s dragged Man United up there, virtually single-handedly at times.”
Manchester United might have never reached this point had the club allowed Rooney to leave during the off-season. Most football fans can still remember Sir Alex Ferguson’s post match comments following United’s final home match of the 2012-13 season (a game Rooney did not dress for): “I don’t think Wayne was keen to play, simply because he has asked for a transfer,” Ferguson said. “I think he wants to think it through in his mind and I think that is a good idea. We have refused it. I think he should go away and think about it again, but it’s not my decision now.”
From that point, the mouths of United’s rivals began to salivate and Red Devil supporters’ feeling switched towards Rooney. There seemed to be an inevitability that the striker would be leaving the club during the summer transfer window. Rumors began to swirl of a reunion with Cristiano Ronaldo or a partnership with Lionel Messi at Barcelona. But those were quickly squashed and the real bidders came to the front. Arsenal made their interest subtle, but Jose Mourinho and Chelsea openly courted the 28-year-old England forward.
By the time David Moyes took office on July 1st, the English media had been chomping at the bit for almost two months waiting to hear the new Manchester United manager’s thoughts on Rooney’s alleged “request”. Moyes wasted no time addressing the topic: “Wayne Rooney is not for sale. He’s a Manchester United player and will remain a Manchester United player. Wayne won’t be sold by Manchester United.” When asked about the exchange between Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney, the Scottish manager replied: Whatever happened before has gone now. We are working together now. I have seen a glint in his eye, he looks happy and looks as if he is going to knuckle down.”
While re-assuring Manchester United supporters and soothing Rooney’s bruised ego, the manager also set the record straight on how things would be operated under his leadership. Moyes has made it clear to Rooney that Van Persie would continue to play as the team’s center-forward (van Persie had just come off a season where he scored 30 goals). Moyes stated he was keen to accommodate both Rooney and Van Persie in his team, but the new United manager told Rooney that opportunities to play in his favored position would only arise when Van Persie was unavailable.
Those comments set off another fire storm in the media and stories began to leak that Rooney was again seeking a transfer. Stories surface that Rooney was ‘angered and confused’ over his position at the club. Moyes had to face questions at each of his following press conferences concerning Rooney and his future with the club. And time and time again, the manager stated that Rooney was not for sale and would remain at the club for a long time.
Rooney ended up sitting out all of United’s preseason fixtures and didn’t return to the lineup until the 61st minute of United’s first Premier League match at Swansea City. Cameras focused on the forward, while his body language and facial expressions were dissected by fans and media. The snap judgment was that Rooney looked unhappy and his heart no longer lied with the club. What most people failed to acknowledge was that the forward had only had a handful of international appearances prior to United’s match at Swansea and he was still getting back his fitness.
As luck would have it, with the transfer window coming to its close, United’s following match would take place at Old Trafford against Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho threw fuel on the fire when he was asked by a reporter if he [Mourinho] would receive a hostile reception upon his return to Manchester. “They are against me?” Mourinho said. “But I didn’t say [to Rooney] you will be a second-choice for me. And they are against me? We are trying to get a player that a manager told ‘You will be a second option’ for him. We are not going for Van Persie. They don’t have to be against me.”
The Chelsea match ended with a dull 0-0 draw. But the talking point was unquestionably the performance of Wayne Rooney. Despite the media storm around him and the club, Rooney put in a footballing display that hasn’t been seen at Old Trafford since his early years. From the opening kickoff, he played with a fire and determination that dwarfed any other player on the pitch.
Following the match, Rooney reported made it clear that he would not be handing in a formal transfer request. He also shared his thoughts (from his Facebook account) on his reception from the Old Trafford crowd: ‘It was an unbelievable reaction from the fans, so thank you. I really appreciate your support. It means a lot.”
The forward continued his solid displays into Manchester United’s opening Champions League match against Bayern Leverkusen. Following two goals and a 4-2 win over the German club, Rooney was questioned about the summer transfer saga by ITV interviewer Gabriel Clarke. Asked whether he was happy at Old Trafford, Rooney said: “Listen, I’m concentrating on my football as I’ve done all summer. I’ve got my head down and I’ve worked hard to get myself fit and ready for the season, so I’m delighted in the way I’ve come back and delighted I’m back playing and scoring goals.” When the reporter persisted and asked if he had asked to leave in the summer, Rooney snapped back: “Listen, I’ve just told you. I’ve been concentrating on my football which I’ve been doing all summer.”
Certain members of the media tried to slant these comments to show that the player was still unhappy at the club and was just waiting to leave during the next window, but they ignored the fact that the player may have grown tired of the constant questions over his future after he had clearly decided it was best to stay at the club.
Rooney has played ten games in the league this season. To this point, he has been United’s most valuable and consistent player. He has five goals and four assists in the Premier League. But those stats are only the tip of the iceberg for the player. When you watch Manchester United play, there is rarely a play that doesn’t involve Rooney. He has boundless energy and he has slowly breathed life back into his teammates.
United have been inconsistent from the start of the season, but their 90-minute display against Arsenal was the best team effort in over a year. And Rooney was the player who set the tone before the two clubs even stepped on the pitch.
Rio Ferdinand, Ryan Giggs, and Nemanja Vidic have all taken their shots at motivating the club prior to previous fixtures this year. United fans have heard time and time again that the club was going to “show their championship form” or “play like champions”. But apparently, those comments were falling on deaf ears in the clubhouse.
Following United’s disappointing draw with Real Sociedad, Rooney addressed the upcoming match with the Gunners: “We’re obviously capable of beating Arsenal. We’ve done it many times in the past. They’re on a good run of form at the moment and are top of the league, so we know it’s going to be a difficult game.” He went on to say, “Arsenal have not been champions since 2004, and Rooney is not getting carried away by their flying start. He added: “We’ll wait and see where they are in March.
“We’ve seen before that they’ve been in the top two until February or March and then faded away, so it’s down to them to try and stay there. They’re doing brilliantly at the minute and it’s up to us to catch them.”
He then went out and put in a Man of the Match performance against the first-place Gunners.
And when he was asked about the match, he praised his teammates while laying down a new marker for them to meet: “The other results today and yesterday also gave us a boost and we are right back in it now. It’s a massive lift, a great weekend for us ahead of the international break. Our aim is to be top or thereabouts at the new year.”
Looks like Manchester United have come a long way since the summer transfer saga. Red Devil supporters have David Moyes and Wayne Rooney to thank for this turn of fortune.