Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Coming Soon to a Theater (of Dreams) Near You: The Replacements

photo by Diane S Murphyvia PhotoRee

Has it really come to this?  Is the love affair well and truly over?  With a press conference held at 2pm BST today, Sir Alex took the moral high ground and wiped Wayne Rooney and his agent Paul Stretford right off the pitch.  Halftime score?   Fergie 1 - Rooney Nil.  Game on, and let the competition begin....

With his straightforward and candid admissions today the wily Scot managed to turn the tide of the press well against his young striker.  We learned today that Rooney told Sir Alex over two months ago that he had no intention of re-signing with Manchester United, despite his prior promise that this was the club where he wanted to spend the rest of his career (interestingly, Fergie's response was to tell Rooney that if he really wished to leave, he should at least remember to "respect the club." That advice obviously fell on deaf ears). 

By unequivocally stating that he had never had an argument with Rooney, had only tried to do the right thing for Rooney's career, and was as disappointed and bemused as anyone else about the situation, Sir Alex effectively painted Rooney into a figurative corner and forced him to show his true colors (which may, in fact, be a putrid shade of Sky Blue).  He also ensured that the vitriolic anger of a Red United nation would be firmly directed on Rooney rather than the manager or the club.  I don't know percentages, but I think one would be hard pressed to find much twitter traffic today backing Rooney's decision.

I have a strong feeling that lines have been drawn in the sand, and that although SAF has offered his hand to Rooney one last time, there is now no way back home for the United hitman.  In fact, I think there's a better than decent chance that the West Brom game on Saturday was the last time we will see Rooney in the famous #10 United jersey. The news that he rolled his ankle (once again) during practice earlier today and was stretchered off the pitch can only be viewed as an intermediate step to buy all parties some time - surely Wayne Rooney can't come out on the pitch at Old Trafford once again, except to a merciless hounding from the Theater of Dreams faithful...

So, if it has indeed come to this, how will United replace Rooney?  Although I've already written that no like-for-like replacement exists for Wayne Rooney, surely there are others who will take his position for a United team in the future....  Just for fun, let's examine some of the possible candidates:

 -          Fernando Torres, Age 26.  Gotta be the favorite right now. Sure he's a Red of a different color, and the two clubs generally don't do business.  But rumors abound of a huge locker room bust-up between Torres and his mates Gerrard and Carragher, and he may well want out of a side that is unlikely to play Champions League football again in the near future.

-          Carlos Tevez, Age 26.  Nah. [Actually, as pointed out by my friend Mike, Tevez is probably the one player in the world whose game resembles Rooney's: a fan favorite, willing to run his socks off in pursuit of nothing, and a bad temperament to boot.]

-          Wesley Sneijder, Age 26.  Interesting.   Obviously plays a different position than Rooney, but a proven goal scorer and a midfield maestro.  Could fill a number of holes in the current United lineup. Is he available?

-          Luka Modric, Age 25. Okay, I'll admit I'm hopeful here (see Column #2), but much like Sneijder above, and already a proven commodity in the EPL.  Modric plus a big bagful of cash could unlock the door for Rooney in my estimation, especially if that bag of cash is used to buy another striker.

-          Karim Benzema, Age 22.  Apparently he's been wanted by Fergie for a long time.  This one really doesn't do anything for me, and would feel strongly like taking a set of hand-me-down clothes.  Can't cut it at the Bernabeu = not good enough for United, either, in my estimation.

-          Diego Forlan, age 30.  Once a Red, always a Red (Remember that catchy tune "Who put the ball in the Scousers' net?") Taking from my second favorite team to help my first.  Sorry Atleti, but I'm selfish when it comes to Manchester United.

-          Sergio "El Kun" Aguero,  Age 21. Ditto Forlan, except without the prior EPL experience and a decade younger. Built like his father-in-law Diego Forlan, and possibly with the moves to match.  Young and getting better.

-          Luis Suarez, Age 23. Great World Cup until he got red carded against Ghana.  A top scorer is still a top scorer, even if he's doing it in Holland.  I think.

-          Luis Fabiano, Age 29.  Has already expressed his desire to play for United, and is an out and out goal scorer, something United have lacked ever since Ruud Van Nistelrooy's departure in my estimation.  My enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that Brazilians don't tend to translate well in the EPL.

-           Kaka, Age 28. I'll admit, this is a longshot, but he's looking more and more like the odd man out at Real Madrid. Again, a very different player than Wayne Rooney, but do you really go from World Player of the Year to benchwarmer in just three years, all while still in your 20s?

-           Alexandre Pato, Age 20. I know the Duck almost moved to Chelsea last season, so he's at least thought about a move to the EPL. Could he cut it?  Lots of promise, but for me the jury's still out.

-           Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Age 28. Please. Signing football's version of the man without a country could be the one thing that would cause me to renounce my United fan membership. I just don't get the attraction to this guy.

-            Edin Dzeko, Age 24. The big Bosnian is another name that I hear linked with United a lot, but this signing wouldn't really float my boat.

-            Freddy Adu, Age 20. Just kidding.  Threw that in to check if you're still reading.

All the names mentioned above assume there will be ample money to spend, and that Rooney will command an impressive transfer fee from wherever he ends up. These are both assumptions that are debatable, at the least, right now. The Glazers' ownership, and David Gill and Sir Alex's leadership will be put to the sternest test yet by this unexpected crisis. If big names are not signed to fill the void left by Rooney, the anger currently directed at United's #10 and his agent will boomerang on others. This is not the last act, but rather the first move in a massive game of chess to be played at the highest level.

I'm sure there are other names that will circulate in the coming weeks and months. The British press will have a field day with their transfer rumors, but I don't see any of the big names mentioned above donning a United shirt before this summer.

In that case, I have four last thoughts: (i) I hope Dimi can handle the pressure of being "the man" this season; (ii) I pray Michael Owen's hamstrings hold up; today could be his lifeline back.  (iii) We're going to figure out just how good Chicha and Macheda actually are. In a hurry. And (iv) I'm farlieonfootie for October 20.

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