Spoils of victory: Andy Cole (right), flanked by Dwight Yorke and Bryan Robson, gets a hand on the English Premier League trophy he last touched in 2001. Photo: Brendan EspositoEven in Australia, Manchester United pretty much do as they please. Call it a perk of being bigger than big.
It’s been a unique experience to play host, but even more unique to have a fully blown, red-tops-inspired transfer pantomime playing out on our doorstep.
The club is here, Wayne Rooney is not, and suddenly the colossal distance between Sydney and Manchester is a fitting metaphor for club and player.
But what Rooney will learn – or what he should have learnt when he went through this circus last time – is his future isn’t in his hands.
United will decide his fate. That’s what they do; make heroes of mortals and choose who they want on their journey.
Three months ago, David Moyes had no idea he would end up on this Big Red Train.
At the time, he was bathed in Everton blue; at least until Alex Ferguson decided otherwise. Moyes takes up the story.
“It was a day off for the players, so I was wearing my jeans and a T-shirt when I got a call from Sir Alex inviting me around to his house to see him. I thought, ‘This is the last thing I can do, looking like this,’ but I couldn’t get back home in time,” he said at a lunch in the city on Thursday. “So I went to his house, apologising for how I was dressed, and he called me in. I thought he was going to ask to take one of my players from Everton, or he wanted me to take somebody on loan.
“He made me a cup of tea and then we went up the stairs, into a room, and he says, ‘I’m retiring,’ and I said: ‘Yeah, when?’ – because Sir Alex was never retiring. There was no leaks in the newspaper or anything. He said: ‘I’m retiring next week. And you’re the new Manchester United manager.’ I didn’t even get a chance to say yes or no. I just nodded my head and agreed. That was how I was offered the job.”
Great story, with a happy ending, and it is telling of how Manchester United operates.
For every Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona and Gary Neville – club icons who occupy every pore of the Old Trafford consciousness – United can be breathtakingly ruthless.
David Beckham, Dwight Yorke, Roy Keane, Jaap Stam and countless others may, in hindsight, love the club and be loved in return, but their United careers ended when United said so.
Being around the Red Devils this week has been a window into how the club does business. And business is what they are best at. Football is a close second.
The Rooney story is the biggest in the football world right now, and it’s as if the United machinery goes on auto-pilot when controversy abounds.
The players have been insulated from the press this week; most haven’t been allowed near a microphone. Those who have – Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs did some self-organised media opportunities – pick their words finer than a 50 metre Patrice Evra pass.
As it happens, United have hired four former players as “legends” – Yorke, Andy Cole, Denis Irwin and Bryan Robson – to act as ambassadors on this tour.
They do the charity work, public speaking, corporate lunches, media opportunities and autograph signings. Cushy it might seem, but the club has extracted great value from the quartet this week, especially in absorbing the inquisitive press.
“David Moyes has said that Wayne Rooney isn’t for sale, and as far as we’re concerned that’s the end of it,” Robson huffed. “It’s not been a disruption to the squad. They’re getting on with training.”
A classic response from a Ferguson disciple.
But as for shipping in Cesc Fabregas? That’s more like it. “If we can get him, it would be a magnificent scoop,” Yorke said.
“He’s a fantastic player. The great thing about him is that he’s had so much experience in the Premier League and he had a great understanding with [Robin] van Persie. We’d be delighted to get him.”
This club likes being the hunter, not the hunted. Their reply to title challenges from Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City was to snarl, not smile.
Nor do they like being threatened from within. If Rooney hands in his transfer request, as most expect, he does so at his own peril. United seldom holds losing hands.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.