A visibly astounded but a very calm Sir Alex Ferguson is speaking to an all-ears, eager press conference. Journalists, moderators and the whole room are falling silent. Only the Scot’s voice and the unceasing clicks of camera shutters can be heard.
The gaffer is here to talk about Bursaspor, the next Champions League opponent. But he also has a sheet in his hand, ready to lift the lid on what had been insanely circulated in the media for the past few days. He has finally confirmed the most dreaded; Wayne Rooney wants to leave Manchester United. Why? Because he thinks the club ‘isn’t ambitious enough’.
Sir Alex laid bare all the facts, recounted the build-up to the crisis, and warned his player that no-one is bigger than the club. He insisted that he didn’t want Rooney to leave, simply because ‘he is such a good player’.
That shock divulgence was made public on 19 October 2010. Three days later and the dust settled. Sir Alex not only convinced his striker to stay at Old Trafford, he also made him extend his contract, and apologise to his team-mates.
It was another moment that epitomised Fergie’s man-management capabilities. Just two seasons before that, he squeezed one more year out of his best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, persuading him to hang on for another season before moving on to his childhood dream club.
Fast forward five years and a similar storm is brewing. The David De Gea saga has been lingering on for months. Louis van Gaal is waiting for his number 1 to make up his mind. De Gea is waiting for Real Madrid to take the initiative and submit an offer. And the Spanish club are watching on patiently.
Just like Ferguson did with Rooney, van Gaal is clear in his mind that he wants the Spaniard to stay at Old Trafford, but he was a bit too candid about the other option. He’s openly asked for a higher price and negotiated the deal in front of the TV cameras. If anything, watching De Gea in his suit in the stands only drew a cold smile on the hunter’s face.
Gary Neville was right. Peter Schmeichel was right. This simply shouldn’t have been allowed to happen, certainly not at a club like Manchester United, where, as a professional, you either give 110% or you don’t deserve to wear that red shirt to begin with. You can’t let the fans feel your faith has started to shake – you will simply be gone.
This is not to suggest that the Spanish goalkeeper has behaved in anything but a professional manner. Yes, his refusal to come out and say what he wants has left many of the fans feeling disgruntled. Some might now even think he shouldn’t stand between the posts again. Others suggest he’s pulled a Victor Valdes by declining to play for the club again, as the Dutchman himself claimed.
Rooney was made the best-paid player in the club’s history, and in the world we live in, everything is becoming unreasonably expensive in football. But if paying extra money means maintaining the best stopper in the world, there is no shame in doing that. At the same time, allowing him to go for free would mark the biggest transfer blow for the club in recent decades.
It isn’t easy to replace a magnificent talent like the 24-year-old. Just think of how long it took to find a successor for the Big Dane. De Gea’s departure would most probably trigger a goalkeeping crisis that all the current options might not be able to solve. Yet the biggest question is “What would Louis van Gaal do if David De Gea was still a United player on 1 September?” This is why the Iron Tulip should solve the dilemma sooner than later.