Arséne Wenger Was A Lone Voice in Wayne Rooney’s Near Rebellion

The success of Arséne Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson is evident on the pitch, but must also be attributed to skills applied throughout the numerous aspects of the trade.

 

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The manager is a strong guide inside the club and has to establish his authority and demonstrate he is in complete control.”

 

“I met with David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad.” -Wayne Rooney

In the span of a week, Wayne Rooney, all but certain to leave Manchester United, had suddenly pledged his loyalty by signing a new long-term contract. The story was resolved as quickly as broke into crisis. It burned fast, gave off bright light and wavy trails of smoke like fireworks or a dying star.

For a week, this Rooney saga proved the juiciest, for it was a football scandal through in through—highlighting the power of the player, the declining power of the football manager, the seedy puppetmastery of the shadow agent, and the illogical financial calculus of a club in precarious times. 

Within a few days of the story breaking, Sir Alex Ferguson gave a great press conference. He maneuvered skillfully, with a knife between smiling teeth, to position and influence the perception of himself, the club, and Rooney.

By the time the six-minute speech concluded, there was near consensus that the relationship between player and manager had become irreparable. Rooney would be off to Real Madrid, Chelsea, or, God forbid, Manchester City.

The press conference, which was closer to the briefing of a statesman, aimed to reassert his control over a situation with a number of unpredictable outcomes. He had to cover all of his bases, anticipate countermoves by Rooney, fans, and the media. He walked the finest of lines. Despite the brilliance of his efforts and broad exertion of control, the intricate maneuvering indicated that he was unsure how it would all end.

Rooney’s public criticism of Manchester United’s decline in combination with Ferguson’s press conference very quickly presented a story where it appeared that the media had no need to fill the scandal’s holes with the thinnest of speculation. The facts were hard and required little stretching. Everything between manager and favorite son had been laid bare. The only speculative element lay in where Rooney would go.

Arséne Wenger’s comments about the crisis, recorded the day before Ferguson’s press conference, were matter-of-fact. “Rooney is a great player. I am convinced he will stay at Manchester United because it is his club. They have the power to keep him.”

In this highly excitable and sensational environment, Wenger’s straightforward comment sounds disjointed. With a drama of betrayal and broken trust playing to a whipped-up public, Wenger instead went straight to administrative matters. The drama may be nothing more than the legal phraseology of the contract.

This of course echoes the recent summer negotiations with Cesc Fabregas. If indeed Wenger drew from personal experience to characterize the epic in Manchester, he only looked further off the mark.

Wenger’s distaste for speculation cannot be discounted. Always cautious, he refused to wade into what he didn’t or couldn’t know, meaty, juicy, or otherwise (his devotion to a proper and disciplined diet is well known), regardless of what appeared to be factual.

If his first statement was rather abstemious—perhaps diplomatic or “academic”—then his second statement more than fully compensated.

“He [Rooney] would say ‘Old Trafford is my home, I will stay there’. And Manchester United would turn up with the right number. He knows that. They know that. Only three or four clubs can buy Wayne Rooney.”

It’s a strange turn. He refrained from entering the center of a controversy, but willingly occupied, if only for a single sentence, the confused mind of Wayne Rooney. He assumed Rooney’s voice and spoke in the first person, almost in the manner of ventriloquist. Ferguson and Wenger know the minds of players, but also seemingly can inhabit them, tap into their hidden intimate layers.

Part of Rooney’s new deal was an increase in his wages. But perhaps more important is the second part of the deal, one that shifts the issue away from Rooney’s avarice to a concern for the club’s future, at least as it stood in his mind. As he said in his counter-statement, “For me its all about winning trophies – as the club has always done under Sir Alex. Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified.” (full statement)

In response to Rooney’s view that the club is in decline, the organization has restated a commitment to perpetuating the club’s dominance, ignoring that it stands on the accumulation of staggering debt, by pledging to purchase the best available players in the world. Amid denials of financial weakness, the pledge was a concession to Rooney’s point of view, which went some length to absolving Rooney as mercenary and hostage taker.

Wenger again. “For Rooney it will not be a financial choice. He will decide if he stays.” Or so it will seem to Rooney inside Rooney’s head.

 

10/23/10

 

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