Football

Manchester United risk becoming the new Leeds

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Never sell your stars to a direct rival. (©GettyImages)
Never sell your stars to a direct rival. (©GettyImages).

David Moyes remains adamant. Wayne Rooney will not be allowed to leave the club for Chelsea this summer. No matter how much is put on the table.

On the face of it, it appears the Rooney transfer saga is just another episode in the power-struggle drama between players and clubs over the summer. Just another high-profile player, like Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez, trying to force through a move to another club.

But Rooney’s situation at Manchester United is different.

United would be selling one of their star players to a direct title rival under a new manager hungry to wrestle the Premier League crown from them.

In contrast, Bale going to Real Madrid can do no harm to Tottenham’s forthcoming season. And though Liverpool may be doing something similar to United in refusing to sell Luis Suarez to Arsenal, arguably their main rival in the hunt for a Champions League top four finish, one doesn’t get the sense that the addition of Suarez into the Arsenal team would greatly boost the Gunners’ chances of mounting a serious title challenge at the expense of Liverpool.

It is more than conceivable, though, that if Rooney was to be granted his move to Chelsea, he could become the major driving force in Jose Mourinho’s push for the league title in his first season back at Stamford Bridge.

The England striker is still, theoretically, in his prime at 27-years-old, and there is the additional motivating factor of this being a World Cup year.  

Put simply, Rooney remains capable of playing the best football of his career at Stamford Bridge under the intelligent guidance of Mourinho.

That is a frightening possibility for everyone at Old Trafford – especially after a frustrating close season in the transfer market – and a Rooney-inspired Chelsea title win would clearly be hugely damaging for David Moyes in his bid to win over any doubters in his first season at the club. 

And United understand better than anyone else what a change in fortunes one misjudged transfer can have on both seller and buyer.

They remember Eric Cantona.

It is nearly 21 years ago since Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds United agreed to sell Eric Cantona to Manchester United for the paltry sum (even then) of £1.2 million. It has to be the most spectacularly short-sighted sale of a player to a league rival in English football history.

Cantona went on to inspire Manchester United to four Premier League titles in his five seasons at Old Trafford, securing his status as an Old Trafford and Premier League legend.

Leeds United, in contrast, never recovered.

They have won nothing since Cantona’s hat-trick against Liverpool netted them the 1992 Charity Shield. Indeed, a 4-0 defeat by Manchester United at Elland Road in September 1996, in which Cantona added insult to injury by scoring a last-minute goal, marked the end of Howard Wilkinson's time at the club.

Though the sale of Rooney to Chelsea isn’t likely to be as catastrophic for United as it was for Leeds following the sale of Cantona, there are still some similarities that can be drawn.

Leeds United were the league holders at the time, just as Manchester United are now.

During Leeds’ winning 1991/92 season, Cantona was the assist-provider for leading goalscorer Lee Chapman. At United last season, Rooney was often the assist-provider for leading goalscorer Robin van Persie.

Before Cantona arrived, United hadn’t won the title for 26 years. Though nowhere near as dramatic a time span, Chelsea have been on a relatively lean spell themselves in terms of titles in recent years (just one in the last seven seasons).

Cantona was in his prime at 26-years-old when he left for Old Trafford. Rooney is only a year older at 27.

It is well reported that Alex Ferguson is in constant contact with Moyes behind the scenes, offering advice and assistance to his successor. Maybe the most important piece of advice Ferguson has given his fellow countryman over the past few weeks is not to make the same mistake Leeds United made 21 years ago. 

Don’t sell a match-winning player to your closest title rivals. 

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Topics:
Football
Manchester United
Wayne Rooney
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