Early Doors

Moyes’s first job at Manchester United? Sell Wayne Rooney

Nobody said following Sir Alex Ferguson was easy; and yesterday David Moyes began to find out just how hard it will be.

Just minutes after bidding farewell to Old Trafford and urging Manchester United fans to back the new manager, Fergie placed item number one in Moyes’s inbox.

Asked a perfectly swervable question by Sky’s Geoff Shreeves about Wayne Rooney’s non-involvement, Ferguson played a straight bat.

“He’s asked for a transfer ... We’re not going to let him go.”

Though his influence around Old Trafford will remain immense, that second statement will depend on the man Ferguson chose as his successor.

The decision could define the early stages of Moyes’s tenure.

Rooney must go.

Why? Simply, he is not the player he used to be. Moyes will not succeed merely by imitating his predecessor, but here is a chance to show a dab of Ferguson’s decisive ruthlessness.

Now, Ferguson was not as brutal as people assume - he axed troublesome big names, of course, but he also accommodated them when he deemed their value to the team too great.

Eric Cantona post-kung-fu kick in 1995. Contract rebels Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand in 2000 and 2008. Rooney himself in 2010.

Fergie was a pragmatist. Nearly all of his famous culls happened after the player in question’s influence had started to wane.

Mark Hughes and Paul Ince were displaced by a glittering new generation; David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy fled for Real Madrid after being dropped for big Cup ties; Keane was well past his best when finally let go.

The exceptions are Jaap Stam - wrongly thought to be fading - and Cristiano Ronaldo, whose exit to Real Madrid could no longer be stalled when he departed in 2009.

Rooney is no Ronaldo. The pair, both teenage prodigies, have played a lot for men their age (Rooney is 27, nine months Ronaldo’s junior).

Ronaldo, with his terrifyingly chiselled physique and insatiable appetite for self-improvement, piles up goalscoring records - last week he reached 200 for Real Madrid at better than one a game.

Rooney, at best, has stalled. He may already be on the way down, his powers sapped by his bulky body and 550 senior games for club and country in little over a decade.

Players age differently, and Rooney admitted in his latest book last year that he is suffering: "Physically I've taken a bit of a battering over the years. When I get up in the morning after a game, I struggle to walk for the first half an hour. I ache a bit.”

The words of a man set to rediscover his youthful vitality? Not impossible, but you wouldn’t bet on it.

Moyes’s history with Rooney is immaterial. The pair appear to be on decent terms, having patched up their relationship following Moyes’s successful libel action against the player for remarks in his autobiography.

Nor is there any reason that Rooney, a decade wiser, could not work successfully with the Everton boss the second time around.

This is purely about football.

Even as second fiddle to Robin van Persie, Rooney can still make a telling contribution - four of his eight goals since the turn of the year were match-winners.

But his returns have diminished, and two transfer requests in three years indicate all is not well off the pitch.

Rooney is England’s most famous player - a megastar in terms of contract, endorsements and a media profile that ensures his every burp and sneeze makes back-page headlines.

The very fact that his transfer request overshadowed Fergie’s farewell demonstrates his ability to sell papers.

There must come a point when Rooney is no longer worth the money and the hassle - and he has asked to leave anyway.

What’s more, Moyes may not even have the means to make Rooney content again.

Ferguson said on Sunday that the striker was unhappy at being substituted in recent games, a pretty clear suggestion that Rooney will no longer settle for a peripheral role.

But what chance is there of him returning next season to a centre stage inhabited by Robin van Persie, a man - though 30 and silver-haired - quite obviously in his prime?

If Moyes tried hard, he could probably soothe Rooney’s injured pride and convince him of his worth to the team.

But then what? Bend his team selection around the necessity that his second-best striker plays every game?

Rooney has not been sidelined through a personal vendetta by Ferguson. It is the logical consequence of his no longer being the best forward at the club.

He is useful, for sure - and it is worth remembering he has not yet voiced his concerns publicly.

But if what Wayne Rooney wants is a role that simply does not exist, Moyes must send him on his way.

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A BIG WEEKEND FOR: Stupid plastic flags.

First Wigan beat Manchester City to win the FA Cup final at Wembley, then Sir Alex Ferguson signed off from Old Trafford amid scenes of bittersweet jubilation and a largely irrelevant 2-1 win over Swansea.

All the while, a sea of cheap, brightly-coloured nylon squares fluttered away in the background.

And let’s not forget flagwaving pioneers Chelsea, whose travelling fans at Aston Villa had to use traditional vocal means to herald Frank Lampard’s goalscoring record. Well played indeed.

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ROY KEANE PLAYS THE PUNDIT: Although sometimes brilliantly incendiary, Keane does talk a load of cobblers sometimes.

Like on Saturday, when he put Manchester City’s failings down to a lack of quality, calling for major investment in players to help out poor Bobby Manc.

Surely Keane of all people, as Ferguson’s demonically-intense enforcer of stratospheric standards at Old Trafford, should know that City lack not for ability, but for desire and application.

After all, it was the Keane-led dressing room regime that helped turn Dwight Yorke from perma-grinning party boy into perma-grinning treble winner.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'd like to remind you that at the start, the club stood by me, the staff stood by me, the players stood by me and now it is your job to stand by our new manager." Is Fergie anticipating three-and-a-half trophyless years under David Moyes?

FOREIGN VIEW: A highly controversial 0-0 draw between Milan and Roma was temporarily suspended due to racist abuse from visiting supporters and witnessed two red cards as Sulley Muntari was sent off for manhandling a referee and Francesco Totti was dismissed for a nasty elbow in injury time.

The stormy match at San Siro was marked by no less than three unsavoury incidents, with Muntari shown a red card in the first half after physically restraining the match official for a prolonged period of time.

Then, in the second half, the match was briefly suspended after racist abuse was heard from the Roma fans inside the stadium, and right at the end Totti was given his marching orders for flinging his elbow into the face of Massimo Ambrosini.

Full story.

COMING UP: Brighton and Hove Albion v Crystal Palace at 19:45. It’s goalless after the first leg, but sooner or later somebody is going to have to hit the net, so join us for that. Watford await in the Championship Play-off final.

Alex Chick - on Twitter @alexchick81