October 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
What’s a fan to do?
Rooney’s alarming volte-face – surely the furthest any player has gone before suddenly panicking and backing away – leaves the United faithful in something of an awkward position. Most, if not all, had begun to position themselves for his absence; even the balaclava-clad buffoons who spent the evening embarrassing themselves outside his house must have thought it all a little futile, though thinking clearly isn’t their strong suit.
If the post-Rooney future was an unclear place, the future with him is equally uncertain. Is this just manoeuvring to ensure a full-price for a sale in the summer? Has he been convinced that the squad contains the quality that he didn’t see in early August? Did he look deep into his soul and find Sir Alex mournfully gazing back at him? Have the club been taken by a calculated piece of salary-inflating brinkmanship? Or did he – as rent-a-berk Stan Collymore suggests – simply look at the enormity of what he was about to do, and bottle it?
From the point of view of his performances, it’s irrelevant: either he’s decided this is the place for him to be, and so will get himself back on track; or he’s putting himself in the shop window, and so needs to play well. In a few weeks, United should once again have a fit and firing Wayne Rooney, barring the (unlikely) possibility that something’s broken in his head, and he’ll never be the same again.
It’s the reaction of the fans that will be interesting. In terms of his reception at Old Trafford, some stick seems likely, though football fans at heart will forgive almost anything in exchange for goals and wins. While not so public in his wanderlust, Steven Gerrard regained his status as darling of the Kop in relatively short order, despite having his shirt burned on television following a Chelsea-inspired transfer request. Nevertheless, like a straying husband reprieved from the purgatory of the couch, there is trust to be rebuilt, and things may never be the same again.
However. United’s position is complicated by the malign ginger cloud hanging over the club. It is becoming increasingly evidence that the green-and-gold protest is, in essence, futile. The Glazers are quite simply not human. At least, not human as football fans might understand, which is to say that they have no conception of what a football club is, why it matters, and why the most important people are not the owners, or the players, or the manager, but the fans. The tragedy of the Premier League is that its priorities are in exactly the opposite order. The inhumanity of the Glazers is that they understand one thing, and one thing only: money.
Which is why the news of Rooney’s change of heart arouses a curious ambiguity, and not just because it will seem strange, for a few games, to cheer him on. As the recent financial results showed, Manchester United are a phenomenal cash-generating business, but almost all that cash is required to service the debts piled onto the club as a result of the Glazer takeover. Cash generated by the club does not reinvigorate or benefit the club. But while this is known by the supporters, the straightforward connection – that cash was your cash, that cash was my cash – hasn’t yet clicked. There is no doubting the sincerity of those waving their scarves inside Old Trafford, but by paying for the tickets, shirts, programmes and pies, they are skirting around the the only act of protest that might have any effect.
The Liverpool example is instructive. What forced Hicks & Gillett’s hands wasn’t the marching, or the singing, or the banners, or the death threats, or the abusive emails, or the bizarrely self-aggrandising videos, or any of the outrage, however heartfelt. It was the inability to service the debt.
One of the silver linings of the Rooney transfer, therefore, was the faint hope that it might serve as some kind of wake-up call to the United faithful. That the sight of Ferguson’s protégé disappearing into the sunset (or, worse, a blue moon) might cause the penny to finally drop that the Glazers do not, and will not, respond to a protest rooted in the emotional and the moral. They do not mind being hated; indeed, they barely notice being hated. As long as they’re being paid.
If you’ll excuse a momentary slip into the personal, I really don’t want this to seem like a snipe at those buying tickets, who as United fans are trapped in a horrible bind. I am not, have never been, and have no likely prospect of imminently becoming a season ticket holder at Old Trafford. And if I were, I know for a fact that I would rather lose my eye teeth than give it up. Yet there is no other way. We can tell the Glazers that they are playing with our feelings. They don’t care. We can point to the club’s history. They don’t care. We could burn flags, threaten violence, and get Ian Brown to mumble incoherently into a camera. They wouldn’t care. United’s owners view United’s fans as nothing more than a endless stream of money. We need to turn the tap off.