ONE name will dominate this week’s Champions League return around Europe. Here’s a clue. It rhymes, some would say aptly, with Pained Loony.
Wayne Rooney’s representatives have spent the last 24 hours letting it be known their money making machine will not sign an extension to his current contract, due to expire in the summer of 2012.
So all the talk before Wednesday’s Group C clash against Turkey’s Bursaspor at Old Trafford will be of the man affectionately known as Shrek.
Will he play? Will he cross Manchester to City in January – or perhaps Barcelona or Chelsea will snap him up for a world record £80 million? Look, this isn’t just supposition any more. The 24-year-old has scored a single goal for United this season after last winter’s 34-goal spree.
Since allegations surrounding his private life emerged – it was claimed with some relish that he had slept with a prostitute while his wife Colleen was pregnant with their son Kai – Rooney has been a peripheral figure at United. Sir Alex Ferguson has insisted his striker has had an ankle injury ever since - but after his mediocre performance in England’s 0-0 draw with Montenegro a week ago, Rooney insisted he has been fit throughout the turmoil following the News of the World’s revelations.
Rooney said: “I have been fit all season. No ankle injury. I haven’t missed a training session.”
Which of course set him on an instant collision course with his manager, with Rooney playing the crash test dummy. Nobody makes rock-hard Glaswegian Fergie, the son of a dockyard worker, look stupid.
And under the Webster ruling (Article 17 of Fifa's transfer regulations, named after the former Hearts player Andy Webster), Rooney could pay off the final year of his current annual salary and buy out his contract for a small compensation fee. That means he could go for £5.5m at the end of the season.
With United denying they will sell him (“nonsense” is how they describe the current reports) and Real Madrid insisting they had no plans to fork out another £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo’s ugly step-brother, it’s tempting to think this will all blow over, like it did for John Terry and Peter Crouch after allegations over their private lives.
Both are happily back playing for club and country. Surely Rooney, who went into the World Cup as “the best striker in the world” will patch it up with his boss (like he appears to have done with his wife, he even took the mum-in-law shopping over the weekend) and they’ll all live happily ever after? But no, this one won’t go away. Sleeping with a prostitute is one thing. Contradicting Sir Alex Ferguson in public is another.
Fergie has made his decision, Rooney is standing firm. Like so many before him – David Beckham, Jaap Stam, Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath, Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel, Nicky Butt and Ruud van Nistelrooy among them – Rooney is about to find out that no player is bigger than Manchester United. And no star shines brighter than Sir Alex Ferguson in the red half of Manchester. Fergie is the master of knowing when a player should go.
No matter how talented, no matter how many replica shirts he may shift, the sell-by date is set by the gaffer. On the sidelines you’ve got former United boss Tommy “Rent-a-gob” Docherty insisting: “Ferguson must go, not Rooney”.
Clearly the man is deluded.
There can be only one winner here and it isn’t Shrek. United survived the departure of all those stars listed above – some apparently at the peak of their powers - and have managed quite nicely, thank you.
While we wait to find out whether Rooney will start against the Turks on Wednesday, some may stwitch their to Rafa Benitez. Since leaving Liverpool four months ago (and what a perfectly timed move that was!) Benitez has been under scrutiny at Internazionale.
Signed to replace Real-bound Jose Mourinho by the European champions, Benitez has struggled to convince at the San Siro.
Wednesday night’s visit of Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham, handily placed in both Group A and the Premier League, could be decisive for Benitez if he is to convince the Italians he is a worthy successor to Mourinho. After a squeaky 1-0 win over Cagliari over the weekend, Benitez said he was considering buying reinforcements in January and he said of the Spurs clash: "It will be a difficult encounter, they’re strong. And fast."
But first, on Tuesday night, Chelsea go to Spartak Moscow in Group F while Arsenal have got Ukraine’s not-to-be-sneezed-at Shakhtar Donetzk at the Emirates Stadium in Group H.
Chelsea remain clear front-runners in the Premier League despite Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Aston Villa, but they won’t relish a return to Moscow, where John Terry famously allowed Manchester United to lift the European Cup in the 2008 penalty shoot-out on that notoriously plastic pitch. This week Terry must deal with Brazilian Ari on the Astroturf.
He’s a strapping six-footer who has scored seven goals in 17 starts for Spartak, currently fourth in the Russian league. And I’m being told to back Ari.
Bayern Munich, trailing a massive 1-0 points behind surprise Bundesliga leaders Mainz and Borrusia Dortmund, have got Cluj Napoca at home while Roma are waiting to snatch top spot in Group E by beating Basel. Bayern need Miroslav Klose, internationally sublime, to score a couple of goals for his Bayern paymasters.
Otherwise terms like crisis may be needed for the side currently ”doing a Liverpool” in Germany, where they are languishing in 10th spot.
Real Madrid take on AC Milan at the Bernebeu in what could be the game of the week in Group G where Ajax and Auxerre appear to be battling it out for third spot and a play in the Europa League.
Barcelona should be far too good for Copenhagen at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night which should open up Group D nicely for Panathinaikos or Russians Rubin Kazan, who meet in Greece.
Werder Bremen’s trip to Dutch champions FC Twente could have significant impact in Group A, where both teams currently trail joint-leaders Spurs and Inter by three points.
In Group B, clear leaders Lyon entertain Portguese giants Benfica while Schalke 04 should be too much for Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv. Rangers, currently second in Group C behind United, will do well to take a point off Spain’s Valencia at Ibrox and cling on to second place.