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کتاب: زندگینامه من- الکس فرگوسن / فصل 26

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IT was August 2004 and we had just played Everton. Bill Kenwright was crying. Sitting in my office, crying. Present were David Moyes, David Gill, Bill and me. As we studied the Everton chairman in his sorrow, he announced that he would like to make a call. Through his tears, Bill said: ‘I’ll need to phone my mother.’ ‘They’re stealing our boy, they’re stealing our boy,’ he said down the line. Then he passed the phone to me. ‘Don’t you dare think you’re getting that boy for nothing. That boy’s worth fifty million pounds,’ said a female voice. Wonderful. ‘This is a trick, this,’ I laughed. ‘Is this a game?’ But it was real. You had only to mention Everton to Bill to turn his taps on. He was a very likeable guy and unapologetically emotional.

David Moyes was giving me the eyes. For a minute I thought it was a get-up, a performance. Bill’s background was in theatre, after all. It occurred to me while all this was going on that I ought to check Wayne’s medical records. Was there something physically wrong we had missed? Was this a ruse to push the price up? My God, it was funny. Did the boy have one leg? Was I being lured into a gigantic sting?

The negotiations to buy England’s most promising young talent were protracted, to say the least. Bill knew the value of the boy. David Moyes was the more combative party – as I would have been, in his position. David was realistic. He knew the club were about to receive a healthy fee and that Everton were hardly awash with money. The official price was just over £25 million with add-ons. Everton needed that injection. When the tears had dried and the talking was over, Wayne signed on the line seven hours short of the deadline on 31 August 2004.

By the time he joined us, he hadn’t played for 40-odd days and had trained for only a couple of sessions. We thought the Champions League tie at home to Fenerbahçe would be a suitable introduction, 28 days after he had become a Manchester United player. This tentative approach yielded a spectacular return: a Rooney hat-trick in a 6–2 victory.

After that dramatic introduction his fitness level dropped a bit and we had some work to do to bring him to the level of the other players. Understandably there was no repeat of the Fenerbahçe performance for several weeks.

None of this stifled my enthusiasm for him. Wayne possessed a marvellous natural talent and was entitled to be given time to make the transition from boy to man. He was a serious, committed footballer with a hunger for the game. At that point in his development, Wayne needed to train all the time, and did so willingly. He was never the sort who could take days off. He needed to train intensively to be on the sharp edge of his game. Whenever he was out for a few weeks with an injury, Wayne’s fitness would drop quite quickly. He has a big, solid frame, and broad feet, which may partly explain his metatarsal injuries in that period.

I knew straight away that he was the player our intuition said he would be. Courageous, reasonably two-footed – though he uses his left foot less than he could. We signed players at 24 thinking they would peak at 26, and Wayne’s progress with us from a much earlier age supported my conviction that he would be at his best around that age. With the kind of physique he had it was always hard to imagine him playing into his mid-thirties, like Scholes or Giggs, but I developed an expectation when he re-signed for us, in October 2010, that he might end up as a midfielder.

All our intelligence about Wayne Rooney as an Evertonian schoolboy could be condensed into a single phrase. This was a man playing in under-age football.

The reports at our academy were always glowing and the club tried to acquire him at 14, when there is a loophole in the last week of May that allows you to sign a boy from another academy. But Wayne wanted to stay at Everton. We tried again at 16 before he signed his academy forms and again he wasn’t interested. Everton were in his blood.

Geoff Watson and Jim Ryan were our two academy men who had monitored Rooney’s progress and been so impressed with him in games between the clubs. He played in the FA Youth Cup final at 16 against Aston Villa.

When Walter Smith joined me as assistant he said: ‘Get that Rooney signed.’ Walter was unequivocal. He described him as the best he had ever seen. That confirmed everything we knew of him. Then came Wayne’s debut, at 16, and his wonder goal against Arsenal.

At Everton he also became the youngest player to win a full England cap, in a game against Australia, and was then picked by Sven-Göran Eriksson for the vital World Cup qualifier against Turkey. He scored his first international goal at 17 years and 317 days. So he was already on the national map by the time he came to us.

My first meeting with him contradicted my expectation that he would have an assertive personality. He was a shy boy. But I think there was an awe about him that reflected the large transfer fee and all the attention it was bringing. He soon stopped being shy. On our training ground he gave everybody hell. Everybody. The referee, the other players. The poor refs – Tony Strudwick, or Mick or René – would all say to me, ‘You’re the only one with the authority – you should ref these games.’ My reply was: ‘There’s no way I’m refereeing these matches.’

I remember Jim blowing his whistle mildly for a foul on a day when Roy Keane was in one of his dark moods, giving everyone stick. His team, our team, the ref, any living creature he could find. Jim turned to me with his whistle and said: ‘I hope Roy’s team wins.’

‘That’s ridiculous, that,’ I said, trying not to laugh.

‘Yeah, but the grief I’ll get in that dressing room,’ Jim said. At one point we even discussed hiring referees.

I admit I gave Wayne a few rollickings. And he would rage in the dressing room when I picked him out for criticism. His eyes would burn, as if he wanted to knock my lights out. The next day he would be apologetic. When the anger subsided, he knew I was right – because I was always right, as I liked to tease him. He would say: ‘Am I playing next week, boss?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I would say.

In my opinion, he was not the quickest learner but what he had was a natural instinct to play the game, an intuitive awareness of how football worked. A remarkable raw talent. Plus, natural courage and energy, which is a blessing for any footballer. The ability to run all day is not to be undervalued. In a training ground exercise he wouldn’t absorb new ideas or methods quickly. His instinct was to revert to type, to trust what he already knew. He was comfortable in himself.

In those early years I seldom had to be dictatorial with him. He made some daft tackles in games and there were flashpoints on the pitch. Off the field, though, he caused me no anxiety. My problem was that, being a centre-forward myself, I was always harder on the strikers than anyone in the team. They were never as good as me, of course. I’m sorry, but none was as good as I was in my playing days. Managers are allowed such conceits and often inflict them on players. Equally, the players think they are better managers than the men in charge – until they try it, that is.

If I saw attackers not doing the things I believe I used to do, it would set me off. They were my hope. I looked at them and thought: you are me. You see yourself in people.

I could see myself in Roy Keane, see myself in Bryan Robson, see bits of me in Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt and the two Nevilles, Gary and Phil. Teams reflect the character of their manager. Never give in: that’s a great religion, a great philosophy to have. I never gave in. I always thought I could rescue something from any situation.

Something was always happening at Man United. There was always a drama. It was routine to me. When Wayne Rooney’s personal life was exposed in the News of the World, and a sense of crisis was brewing in his world in the late summer of 2010, there was no council of war in my office, no pacing of the room.

I didn’t phone him the morning after the story broke. I know he would have wanted me to. That’s where my control was strong. He would have been looking for a phone call from me, an arm round his shoulder. To me that wasn’t the way to deal with it.

When these sorts of allegations surfaced the first time, he was 17 years old, and allowances were made for his youth, but this time we were seven years on. Coleen, his wife, had her head screwed on. She always struck me as a stabilising force.

I certainly felt under pressure in relation to him during that World Cup in South Africa. I knew there was something bugging him at the 2010 World Cup. I could see it. Although he had been named PFA Player of the Year and Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year that season he was in a strange mood in South Africa. ‘Nice to see your home fans boo you,’ he said into a TV camera after England’s goalless draw with Algeria in Cape Town. England went out in the second round and there were no goals in four matches for Wayne.

I needed to get his attention. Yet the best way to achieve that was by not saying anything to him – not offering consolation – to force him to think. When I left him out away to Everton in September, to protect him from abuse by the crowd, he was relieved, because he knew I was doing the right thing by him. Your job is to make an impact on each personality with the best possible output in terms of performance.

We can all moralise but everyone will commit indiscretions. I was never going to moralise with Rooney. On 14 August 2010 Wayne informed us that he would not be signing a new contract at United. This was a shock, as the plan had always been to sit down after the World Cup to discuss a new contract.

As the drama gathered pace, David Gill called me to say that Wayne’s agent, Paul Stretford, had been to see him to say that Wayne wanted away. The phrase he had used was that he didn’t think the club were ambitious enough. We had won the League Cup and the League the year before and reached the final of the Champions League.

David said that Wayne would be coming to see me. At that meeting, which was in October, he was hugely sheepish. I felt he’d been programmed in what he was trying to say. The basis of his complaint was that we were not sufficiently ambitious.

My response was to ask Wayne: ‘When have we not challenged for the League in the last 20 years? How many European finals have we been to in the last three or four years?’

I told him that to say we weren’t ambitious was nonsense.

Wayne said that we should have pursued Mesut Özil, who had joined Real Madrid from Werder Bremen. My reply was that it was none of his business who we should have gone for. I told him it was his job to play and perform. My job was to pick the correct teams. And so far I had been getting it right.

We had a European tie the following day. Two hours before we played Bursaspor, on 20 October, Wayne issued the following statement: ‘I met with David Gill last week and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad. I then told him that I would not be signing a new contract. I was interested to hear what Sir Alex had to say yesterday and surprised by some of it.

‘It is absolutely true, as he said, that my agent and I have had a number of meetings with the club about a new contract. During those meetings in August I asked for assurances about the continued ability of the club to attract the top players in the world.

‘I have never had anything but complete respect for MUFC. How could I not have done, given its fantastic history and especially the last six years in which I have been lucky to play a part?

‘For me its all about winning trophies – as the club has always done under Sir Alex. Because of that I think the questions I was asking were justified.

‘Despite recent difficulties, I know I will always owe Sir Alex Ferguson a huge debt. He is a great manager and mentor who has helped and supported me from the day he signed me from Everton when I was only 18.

‘For Manchester United’s sake I wish he could go on forever because he’s a one-off and a genius.’

I wasn’t sure what he meant by this statement but I assumed he was trying to build some bridges with me and the fans. I hoped it meant he’d changed his mind and was happy to stay with us.

The press conference after that game, when all the media were there, gave me an opportunity to say what I wanted to say, which was that Wayne was out of order.

I told the press: ‘As I said, three Premier League titles in a row is fantastic and we were within one point off a record fourth. It didn’t happen for us and we didn’t like that and we want to do something about it. We’ll be OK – I’ve got every confidence in that. We have a structure at the club which is good, we have the right staff, the right manager, the right chief executive, he’s a brilliant man. There’s nothing wrong with Manchester United, not a thing wrong with it. So we’ll carry on.’ And I said on television: ‘I had a meeting with the boy and he reiterated what his agent had said. He wanted to go. I said to him, “Just remember one thing: respect this club. I don’t want any nonsense from you, respect your club.” What we’re seeing now in the media is disappointing because we’ve done everything we can for Wayne Rooney, since the minute he’s come to the club. We’ve always been there as a harbour for him. Any time he’s had a problem, we’ve given advice. But you do that for all your players, not just Wayne Rooney. That’s Manchester United. This is a club which bases all its history and its tradition on the loyalty and trust between managers and players and the club. That goes back to the days of Sir Matt Busby. That’s what it’s founded on. Wayne’s been a beneficiary of this help, just as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and all the players have been. That’s what we’re there for.’ In a conference call with the Glazers, the future ambitions of the club were discussed and Wayne was made one of the highest-paid players in the country, I would imagine. The next day he came in to apologise. I told him: ‘It’s the fans you should be apologising to.’

There was a mixed reaction from the players. Some were put out; others were not bothered by him. It was a sorry episode for Wayne because it portrayed him as a money man who had dropped his grievance the minute his salary was raised. That’s the way it was presented, but I don’t think it was Wayne’s intention to make it a financial issue. It blew over quickly. With the fans, however, there was a residue of mistrust.

He was fine so long as he was scoring, but in fallow times there was perhaps a stirring of the old resentment. Players can underestimate the depth of feeling for a club among fans. In the most extreme cases it leads supporters to think they own the club. Some of them have stood behind the club for 50 years. They’re there for life. So when a player is deemed to have shown disloyalty to a club, there is no messing about with them.

Very few players want away from Manchester United. We had a generation of players who had pledged their whole careers to our club – Giggs, Scholes, and so on – and it was alien to our supporters to see a player agitating for a move or to hear him criticising transfer policy.

In the winter of 2011, I did have to take disciplinary action after Wayne, Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson had a night out. They went across to Southport to a hotel to celebrate our 5–0 Boxing Day win against Wigan. They came into training the next day weary. I went into the gymnasium where they were doing their exercises and told them they would be fined a week’s wages and not considered for selection against Blackburn on the Saturday.

Wayne needed to be careful. He has great qualities about him but they could be swallowed up by a lack of fitness. Look at the way Ronaldo or Giggs looked after themselves. Wayne needed to grasp the nettle. It was not wise for England to give him a week’s holiday before Euro 2012 because he might lose his edge. If he missed a couple of weeks for United, it could take him four or five games to get his sharpness back. The Ukraine game was over a month after his last game for us.

He would receive no leniency from me. I would hammer him for any drop in condition. It was quite simple – he wouldn’t play. That’s the way I always dealt with fitness issues, regardless of the player involved, and I saw no reason to change in the final years of my career.

Wayne had a gift for producing great moments in games. In my final year, when he was left out a few times, and replaced in games, I felt he was struggling to get by people and had lost some of his old thrust. But he was capable of making extraordinary contributions. That pass to Van Persie in the win over Aston Villa that secured the title for us was marvellous, as was his overhead kick against Man City. Those flashes guaranteed his profile. But as time wore on, I felt he struggled more and more to do it for 90 minutes, and he seemed to tire in games.

I took him off in that Aston Villa game because Villa were a very fast young side, full of running, and their substitute was running past Wayne. He came into my office the day after we won the League and asked away. He wasn’t happy with being left out for some games and subbed in others. His agent Paul Stretford phoned David Gill with the same message.

All players are different. Some are happy to stay at the same club their whole careers; others need fresh challenges, as Van Persie felt when he joined us from Arsenal. The urge to fight and flourish would not be extinguished in Wayne. I left him to discuss his future with David Moyes, hoping to see many more great performances from him at Old Trafford.

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