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Friday, Sept. 3, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Signing of Rooney a big gamble for Manchester United


LONDON -- Incredible.

Christopher Davies

The column takes a couple of weeks off for the Olympics and two Premiership players join Real Madrid, one decides not to sign with the Spanish club, Wayne Rooney becomes the most expensive teenager in football and two managers are fired.

Apart from that it's been a quiet August . . .

Let us start with Wayne Rooney. The 18-year-old has been front-page news over the past couple of weeks because of his nocturnal wanderings a while ago, including an association with someone who trades under the name of -- honest -- the Auld Slapper.

On the back pages Rooney's transfer request handed in last Friday was "one of the hardest thing I have ever done," but he hopes that he will be well received when he returns to Everton with Manchester United.

He should not hold his breath.

To clear up any confusion, this IS the same Wayne Rooney who, when scoring for Everton, once took off his jersey to reveal a T-shirt slogan "Once A Blue Always A Blue." If nothing else Rooney has re-written the meaning of the word "always."

The deal, worth a potential £27 million to Everton, was completed last Tuesday. Rooney will earn £50,000 a week while Proactive Sports Agency -- the player's agents -- were paid £1.5 million by United.

How such a figure is arrived at is unknown. Why the club and not Rooney pays their fee is a similar mystery. Outside of Planet Football it is the client who usually pays, so for trying to get the maximum wages out of United -- Everton also wanted the maximum fee -- United pays £1.5 million to Proactive.

It is not illegal, but it is an amazing sum for services rendered.

United is buying potential rather than the finished article, despite Rooney's outstanding form at Euro 2004. He still has more yellow cards than Premiership goals to his credit and the fear is that Rooney will self-destruct in the way that George Best and Paul Gascoigne did.

Not the sharpest pencil in the box, Rooney does not seem best equipped to handle the inevitable fame, media spotlight and the army of girls that will no doubt be willing to dance the night away with him.

From the Auld Slapper to Old Trafford is an unlikely journey and Rooney represents one of the biggest challenges of Sir Alex Ferguson's managerial career.

Newcastle also bid for Rooney but when it fired -- sorry, dispensed with the services of -- Sir Bobby Robson on Monday it became a non-starter.

During the summer chairman Freddy Shepherd had said "you don't sack Sir Bobby Robson" -- but did just that. As the season began, Shepherd told the media his manager's contract would not be renewed next summer and, not surprisingly, Robson was less than impressed to learn of this from the press.

His days were effectively numbered and the end came a week after Southampton had dispensed with Paul Sturrock two games into the 2004-05 season and after a total of 13 games in charge.

As Robson has spent a considerable amount in five years with Newcastle while not coming close to winning anything, it is probably the right decision but made in all the wrong ways.

Shepherd, not Robson, made the decision to sell Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid and the manager's position was also undermined by players such as Kieron Dyer, who went public with his unhappiness at being asked to play right midfield instead of central.

A midfielder refusing to play in midfield!

Dyer is paid £65,000 a week by Newcastle and for that the club might expect the England international to play where it feels it is in the team's best interests.

Woodgate to Real, where he joined Michael Owen -- fresh from his transfer from Liverpool -- and one-year Madrid veteran David Beckham, was probably the most remarkable summer transfer.

Owen's move to Spain was almost as surprising, but his contract with Liverpool had a year to run and the club claims a new agreement could not be reached. Rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer Liverpool cashed in.

But why did Real, with Raul, Ronaldo and Fernando Morientes buy a fourth striker?

For Madrid, Owen represents good business. Because of his contractual situation it bought him at a knock-down price and if, as many suspect, Owen is a regular substitute and becomes fed up with life on the bench, Real would still be able to sell him on in 2005 for at least double the sum they paid for him.

And everyone prospers.

The Woodgate deal is harder to fathom, but the SFX agency (which coincidentally also handled the moves of Owen and Beckham to Madrid) must surely be the Agents of the Year for managing to broker a £13.8 million transfer to Real for a defender with a criminal record and a history of injury that has restricted him to an average of 14.5 league games a season over the last five years.

For Newcastle it represented a handsome profit -- almost double what it paid Leeds some 18 months ago -- on Woodgate who played only a quarter of the matches the Tynesiders had during that period.

Real tends not to buy players with a poor injury record or whose past has some significant blemishes. Though Real needed to strengthen its defense, Woodgate was an astonishing choice even though when fit -- which, for long periods, isn't very often -- he is a commanding player.

This column can offer no further insight into the deal other than maybe Madrid has a crystal ball which has told it the England international will shrug off his injury troubles and play 45 games a season. Sorry but it's the best I can do.

Two years ago Woodgate was involved in an incident that left an Asian student badly injured. The Real player was found not guilty of grievous bodily harm (as was his then Leeds teammate Lee Bowyer), but Woodgate was given 100 hours of community service when found guilty of affray.

Meanwhile, Patrick Vieira, as has become part of the footballing summer, was on the verge of signing with Real for about six weeks, but a day before the deadline set by Arsenal he decided that his heart wouldn't let him leave Highbury.

Vieira's heart is obviously an organ that likes to leave major decisions until the last moment.

This, Vieira and Arsenal assured everyone, was not about money (stop smiling) though Real president Florentino Perez said that the deal was dead because Arsenal kept changing the fee every week.

Take your choice who you believe.

Anyway, Vieira remains at Highbury where he earns around £80,000 a week with a testimonial (tax free) match two years away.

No further questions my friend.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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