Chelsea's Rooney bid sparks day of intrigue

Posted by Phil Lythell

The 24 hours that spanned Tuesday afternoon into its counterpart on Wednesday had all the elements of a modern transfer tale.

The saga began with Manchester United manager David Moyes making a throwaway/calculated (delete according to your point of view) comment regarding Wayne Rooney's diminishing status in the Red Devils squad. That sparked a pointed response from Rooney's camp claiming the England international was "angry and confused;" a leaking of information designed to put the player at odds with his current employer to help initiate a move away from Old Trafford.

- Chelsea GKs welcome Rooney bid
- Mourinho sends message to Rooney
- Jolly: Rooney short of legend status at United

Then news of a bid from Chelsea emerged, albeit containing the quite extraordinary assertion that the offer included either Juan Mata or David Luiz, plus cash for the player. Chelsea responded by confirming a bid had been lodged but categorically denying that any player had been mentioned as part of a prospective deal, with the Londoners laying the blame for this erroneous reporting squarely at United's door.

Thus the wheels were set in motion for the acrimonious transfer of a once feted player to a fierce rival, even if the initial nudge had come a couple of days earlier via Jose Mourinho's admitted admiration for the 27-year-old.

But while some of the events followed a familiar course, there were others that broke the mould, not least the official statement made by Chelsea. The Blues board have made it a stringent policy of theirs never to comment on transfer business until it is concluded, though in this case it seems as if they felt compelled to act. And in their actions, Chelsea's often embarrassing PR department has played a blinder. By moving quickly to dispel rumours that either their double player of the year or their flamboyant and coveted centre back had been offered to United, they nipped in the bud any potential discontent from their supporters while simultaneously exonerating journalists from any blame for fabricating the story. It always helps to keep the fourth estate onside.

Equally as surprising -- though perhaps less helpful -- were Mourinho's answers on the subject when quizzed by the nation's writers following their friendly win over the Singha All-Stars. The Special One conceded that Rooney was the club's only striking target and that no other option was being considered. Although that might have been designed to reassure his present crop of forwards that Chelsea would only install competition in that area of the squad should an exceptional player be available, it also made it clear to Manchester United that Chelsea were determined to get their man, driving up any potential transfer fee in the process.

Even so, that is perhaps the only positive that the Premier League champions can take out of this episode so far. By attempting to play hardball with Rooney over a possible new contract, they appear to have driven him into the arms of a team who promise to be one of their closest challengers for the title next season. Gambling that Chelsea would retain their usual silence over ongoing transfer negotiations, their quiet briefings to the press that Mata or Luiz formed part of the bid backfired spectacularly when the Blues called their bluff and refuted their claims in unequivocal terms.

With the furore dominating football news in the absence of any action on the pitch and the club now besieged by intrigued journalists, United have banned their players from answering any questions on the subject. The club are now tight-lipped on a story that they appeared to create deliberately. Sir Alex Ferguson and former chief executive David Gill used to run a tight ship when in partnership at Old Trafford; the pair were always on message. The new axis of Moyes and Ed Woodward has so far proved itself somewhat less adept at manipulating such a delicate situation.

The only thing that seems certain at this point is that Rooney will leave Manchester United. The relationship between player and management -- one that has been rocky for a few years now -- is surely beyond repair. The player's premature return to England from United's tour of the Far East and Australia under the guise of a hamstring injury now seems to be the ruse that most suspected at the time.

The question now is whether he will actually sign for Chelsea. The Blues are certainly in pole position, with few clubs having the inclination or the resources to pay Rooney the huge salary he demands. Arsenal have reportedly declared their interest, though their track record of signing big-name players is nonexistent. Their inability to seal a deal with Real Madrid for Gonzalo Higuain despite having been in negotiations with the Spanish giants since the end of last season suggests they are hardly the big hitters that their chief executive Ivan Gazidis purports they are.

Chelsea remain favourites to be Rooney's next home, but attaining his signature will be far from straightforward.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell


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