From sulky outsider to team talisman, the transformation in Wayne Rooney in the space of a week has been remarkable.
The man who could not be bothered to celebrate a goal with the rest of his team-mates at Swansea was back on song at Old Trafford on Monday night, commanding centre stage once again and dictating Manchester United’s play.
So what has changed in Rooney’s mind to make such a difference? The answer, quite simply, is an acceptance on behalf of the England striker and his representatives that he is going nowhere for now; that United mean it when they say he will not be sold to Chelsea under any circumstances.
Rooney has always known that United hold the aces. With two years left on his contract, they do not have to sell. In World Cup year, he has to play.
With the days counting down to the close of this transfer window, Rooney eventually realised that any move to Stamford Bridge will have to wait. A formal transfer request was on the cards at the start of this month. It was the talk of United’s training ground for several days but never materialised because Rooney realised it would have been futile.
He would also have risked losing millions in bonuses like former team-mate Carlos Tevez, whose transfer request to Manchester City in 2010 ended up costing him £6million.
Two bids from Chelsea, and Jose Mourinho’s mischievous promise of a third, have met with steadfast resistance from the champions. David Moyes deserves great credit for that. He has faced the Rooney question from Sydney to Swansea and Osaka to Old Trafford, and never wavered.
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In the end, Rooney blinked first and accepted that he will have to knuckle down for the time being.
Throughout the episode, Rooney has been a difficult man to read, appearing petulant and detached on the field even as some players described him as being at ease on the training ground. On his first day back, he was said to have been laughing and joking with Moyes in the medical centre at Carrington.
In fact, the only time he took issue with Moyes was over the manager’s comments on tour about keeping him as back-up for Robin van Persie, a sideswipe that brought an indignant response from the Rooney camp, claiming he was ‘angry and confused’.
Nor is it true that he has fallen out with his team-mates. The situation has created uncertainty and concern within the camp, but Rooney is still very much part of the group in training and when he joins them every morning for his cup of coffee at Carrington. Even on the flight back from South Wales after his public show of indifference, he was said to be on good form.
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‘He’s not been a problem to anyone,’ said one source. ‘People say that Wayne looks miserable or angry but sometimes that’s just his demeanour. It’s not until you know the real person that you know what’s going on inside.
‘He’s quite shy. Sometimes he will walk around as if he’s Jack the Lad, other times he looks like he’s got the world on his shoulders.’
The fans who forgave him for questioning United’s ambition in 2010 have been forgiving again, and Rooney could not fail to have been impressed by the way they sang his name in Monday’s goalless draw with Chelsea.
Skipper: Nemanja Vidic was impressed by the reaction Rooney had
He acknowledged the acclaim and responded with a performance full of energy and enterprise against the club who are so desperate to sign him.
Some saw it as a risky move by Moyes, but at United they insist that Rooney would not have made his first start since April if the manager harboured any doubts about his state of mind.
His body language was certainly different from that at Swansea, where he displayed so little enthusiasm despite setting up two goals after coming off the bench.
United skipper Nemanja Vidic, for one, was not surprised to see the fans welcome him back.
‘They have always supported the players and Wayne is no different,’ said Vidic. ‘He has been supported throughout the years and I don’t think there was a question he would have been supported on Monday night. He has scored so many goals and won so many trophies — I expected him to receive a good reception.’
For all the positive vibes around Rooney, the fact is that he would still prefer to join Chelsea and all options remain possible in the long term.
The player could yet sign a new deal at Old Trafford, and negotiations between his advisers and United would typically start towards the end of this year.
Rooney could pay up to £12m next summer to buy himself out of the final year of his contract or he could wait until 2015 and walk away as a free agent.
Alternatively, Chelsea could test United’s resolve again in January in the hope that the situation might have changed.
For now, though, he stays. It’s just taken a while for Wayne Rooney to get his head around that.