Ferguson turns heat on Rooney
Sir Alex Ferguson staged a compulsive drama at "The Theatre Of Dreams" as he claimed every inch of Manchester United's moral high ground to hang Wayne Rooney out to dry.
Ferguson, consumate politician and manipulator that he is, left the door ajar for Rooney to pull back from his desire to leave Old Trafford - but it is impossible to see how the relationship can survive the Scot's gripping full disclosure on Tuesday.
In measured, passionate tones Ferguson painted a damning picture of a player who he clearly believes is misguided, selfish, ungrateful and had shown a lack of respect for his club and manager.
Rooney did not get Ferguson's famous hairdryer treatment for his insubordination. The words were delivered more in the manner of a surgeon's scalpel, but the damage to the player's reputation and standing in the eyes of supporters was devastating.
Ferguson looked and sounded genuinely hurt and - in his own words - "bemused" at the turn of events that has seen the player he had placed at the centre of United's future demand to leave. There was, at times, genuine sadness on his face and in his voice.
It is a stunning story and this was an impressive and brutally honest performance by Ferguson that leaves Rooney and his powerful representative Paul Stretford with ground to make up if the striker still wishes to be painted as the innocent victim of Ferguson's dictatorial style.
Ferguson drew a careful timeline of events that moved through the early optimistic stages of contract talks and Rooney's willingness to stay at United up to 14 August when, after a disappointing World Cup, chief executive David Gill left him "dumbfounded" with the fateful phone call informing him that his finest player wished to leave.
A disappointed Sir Alex Ferguson addressed a packed news conference on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
In the time it took him to complete his media briefing ahead of Wednesday's Champions League meeting with Bursaspor, Ferguson snatched the agenda and momentum away from Rooney and Stretford to portray United as the injured parties. And he did it with great conviction.
In this case it may be true, but there may not be too many tears shed for Ferguson because he was only too happy to be the beneficiary when Rooney's relationship with David Moyes and Everton broke down six years ago and Stretford brokered his £27m move to Old Trafford.
There might just be a sense of "what goes around comes around" at more than one club in the world at Rooney pulling the rug out from under Ferguson.
Ferguson's version of events places huge pressure on Rooney to give his own explanation of how it has come to this - not something likely to mend fences between player and club.
The list of charges laid against Rooney by Ferguson in his compulsive press conference is guaranteed to turn the vast majority of Manchester United supporters against the player they have idolised from the day he arrived at the club.
Ferguson also hit back with a contradiction of Rooney's claim that he had not been carrying an ankle injury.
He outlined how United had acted as a safety net for Rooney's combustible personality at all times in his career when he stated: "We've done nothing but help him. I don't know how many times we've helped him in terms of his private life and other matters."
And there was no disguising Ferguson's contempt and disappointment when he rejected out of hand claims there had been a breakdown in his own personal relationship with Rooney, as he said: "I have never had any argument with Wayne Rooney at any time."
Ferguson then reeled off what he regards as the unique allure of Manchester United with an almost quizzical look as he searched for one good reason why his greatest talent would want to leave.
"We have won 40 major trophies, countless cup finals, have a fantastic history, a great stadium, great training arrangements," he said.
"We don't understand it. I can't answer any questions about why he is doing it. We can speculate. We can have opinions. It won't matter a dickie-bird, simply because the player is adamant he wants to leave."
And leave he will unless Ferguson and Rooney can somehow apply a fix to this broken relationship, a far distant prospect given the story that unfolded in such fine detail in front of an enthralled audience at Old Trafford.
Ferguson's greatest frustration will lie not just in the damage Rooney's departure will do to his squad, but in the fact that events have slipped out of his control. The idea of planning for more silverware without Rooney had clearly never crossed his mind until he picked up the phone to Gill in August.
There was, despite the tentative offering of an olive branch, a grim expression of resignation on Ferguson's face as he admitted Rooney was in no mood to change his mind.
It was one of the most significant public performances of Ferguson's career, and he will no doubt succeed in ensuring the weight of Old Trafford's support is thrown behind him and his players rather than the disaffected and out-of-sorts striker.
Ferguson was making the best of a bad job as he sat in front of the battery of cameras, microphones and the world's media - and to a large extent he succeeded.
But the reality is that United must now change their equation for success to cope without the stellar star, and his potential departure seriously weakens the strength at Ferguson's disposal.
United have managed to compensate for the loss of players in the past, but this time those left behind if Rooney goes do not look equipped to challenge for the major trophies.
Ferguson cannot afford to let matters lie and trust in his squad, as he effectively did when he raked in £80m for Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid in summer 2009.
He admitted recently United might have to stretch themselves in the next two years to cover the retirement of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, but finding a replacement for Rooney is another challenge altogether.
Ferguson says United are not operating under financial restrictions, despite announcing a pre-tax loss of £80m, and the names of potential successors to Rooney were already floating around Old Trafford as Ferguson spoke.
Real Madrid's Karim Benzema is a player he has always admired - and dare he try to regain lost ground and test Liverpool's resolve to keep Fernando Torres by arriving at the gates of Anfield armed with cash from the sale of Rooney?
Rooney, for his part, needs to find a club to accommodate his football and financial needs. Easier said than done in the current climate.
Barcelona are on an economy drive, Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho backed Ferguson to persuade Rooney to stay (although that was before his public revelations) while Chelsea appear interested observers as opposed to serious contenders for his signature.
All roads lead not very far from Old Trafford - to Eastlands and Manchester City. They have the money, the will and the ambition to go all the way in pursuit of Rooney. And the fact that he is the biggest name, apart from the manager, at Manchester United makes him an almost irresistible attraction.
Old Trafford will no doubt noisily declare its backing for Ferguson on Wednesday, and the manager will use Rooney's discontent as a weapon to fire up the entire club.
The next move is Rooney's - in more ways than one.