Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday accused want-away striker Wayne Rooney of showing Manchester United a lack of respect by indulging in the kind of “nonsense” that the manager had warned him against when accepting his desire to leave Old Trafford, two months ago.
Ferguson, whose admission that United's £150,000-a-week offer to Rooney has proved insufficient to keep him, provided a detailed explanation of how their own relationship has had nothing to do with the 24-year-old's decision to go.
But Ferguson believes Rooney has shown grave disrespect to United by allowing suggestions to the contrary to take hold, in part by directly contradicting the manager's claims that he has been carrying an ankle injury.
Ferguson revealed that after Rooney had confirmed he wanted out of Old Trafford, he asked that he go with good grace. “I said to him only one thing,” Ferguson said.
“I said: ‘Just remember one thing, respect this club. I don't want any nonsense from you. Just respect the club.' I don't know if he has done that. I have my doubts about that.”
The question of whether Rooney will play for United again is in some doubt. The player was stretchered from a Carrington training pitch with another ankle injury yesterday and will not play against Bursaspor in the Champions League at Old Trafford tonight.
The search is already under way for a replacement, with United fans likely to view the non-replacement of another totemic player as incontrovertible proof that the Glazers do not have the money to invest.
United have already begun making discreet inquiries about Liverpool's Fernando Torres, who is hugely disillusioned at Anfield and now ready to leave, possibly as early as the January transfer window — when it would also make most financial sense for the the equally disillusioned Rooney to be sold.
Liverpool's new American owners have spelt out that they are not willing to pay inordinate wages and United may be ready to make an initial bid in January.
Ferguson was interested in Torres before Rafael Benitez signed him in 2007 and the manager's renewed plans may explain why he was so furious about his comments on Torres feigning injury being translated into “cheat” headlines after United's 3-2 win over Liverpool on 19 September. Ferguson has not held a Friday press conference since.
That furore occurred over a month after a telephone call on August 14 in which Rooney's agent, Paul Stretford, told United chief executive, David Gill, that the player wanted to leave — just as Ferguson was beginning to consider a move for the 26-year-old Torres.
First indications are that Liverpool may be willing to let Torres leave and that the club's new owners, John W Henry and Tom Werner, who have not been averse to their baseball stars leaving for potential rivals, may be ready to apply the same rationale here.
Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini will be asked about Rooney for the first time at a press conference scheduled for 10am today to discuss the club's Europa League tie with Lech Poznan.
The £220,000-a-week salary being commanded by City's Yaya Toure — to date, a far less potent Premier League player than Rooney — is the one which has switched the striker on to the idea of leaving Manchester United.
City have been happy to wait and watch the situation this week. But the club knew of the breakdown in talks just days after Stretford's call to Gill and would be likely to sell players to facilitate a move.
Ferguson accused Rooney of deliberately claiming that they had argued as a device to ease his departure from Old Trafford. “We've not had any argument, not a bit,” he said.
“I think that you have to understand the mechanics of these situations when people are working in terms of wanting to leave a club. It's an easy one to say you've fallen out with the manager. It's a very easy one to say that. And I think there are traces of that.”
Ferguson said “the door is always open” for the 24-year-old but clearly believes that the contract discussions will not resume. “There is no offer on the table, because they're not prepared to listen to an offer, but there's always an offer there from Manchester United to negotiate with a player, and that's still there,” he said.
After such a strong and eloquent blow from Ferguson in what has become a public battle this week, Rooney's representatives will be debating whether to respond.
Ferguson said United were devastated to hear of Rooney's decision in August
“I was just dumbfounded,” he said. “I could not understand it at all because only months before he was staying it's the greatest club in the world, he wanted to stay for life and we just don't know what's changed the boy's mind.”