x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Wayne Rooney: The merchant of menace

Is this a blagger I see before me? Rooney may meet his match in Moyes, says Will Batchelor

David Moyes, left, says he would like to keep Wayne Rooney, right, because he wants ‘as many options as possible.
David Moyes, left, says he would like to keep Wayne Rooney, right, because he wants ‘as many options as possible.

In the bottom of my desk drawer, I have a list of Wayne Rooney-inspired Shakespeare plays.

You know the sort of thing: The Temper, A Comedy of Ears, Twelfth Stone, Several Midsummer Nights Out, Much Ado About Nutting, etc.

This list is so old I can't even remember how it started perhaps something to do with the fact that his agent is called Stretford - but I had rather given up on my initial hope of using it in a column some time. The opportunity never arose.

Until now.

You see, there was something familiar about the drama currently unfurling at the Theatre of Dreams. OK, so it is mainly unfurling in Thailand, Cheshire and West London, but this is a piece about dramatic events concerning a Manchester United player, so forgive me for using the Theatre line.

The central character of this drama is Rooney himself: undoubtedly a fine asset, but also obstinate, moody and headstrong.

The second main character is United's new manager David Moyes, a cunning fox whose future success depends on his ability to bring Rooney into line.

To simply bow to Rooney's demands of a team built around himself and a fat new contract would be catastrophic for Moyes, putting him at the mercy of a player who has already proved his willingness to hold his club ransom when his stock is high.

That episode, in which the club huffed and puffed before caving in, was damaging even to a manager of Sir Alex Ferguson's standing. To a relative newbie like Moyes, it could be fatal.

On the other hand, Moyes also cannot crush or humiliate a player like Rooney. To do so would either cause him to stay at United and unsettle his teammates with a mighty sulk, or even worse, head to Chelsea with a heart full of vengeance and a point to prove.

If Rooney does leave Old Trafford, Moyes will want it to be at the player's written request, so that the manager is not painted as the villain. If Rooney stays, he must feel that he has a position worth fighting for.

And so the Scot must play a complex psychological game, giving Rooney just the right amount of reassurance while priming him for a relatively amicable exit, if necessary.

Moyes' comment in Thailand this week - that he'd like to keep Rooney, "because we need as many options as possible" - treads this middle ground perfectly.

Such damning with faint praise carries all sorts of meanings. No wonder Rooney was said to feel "angry and confused".

In this game of bluff and counter-bluff, my money is on Rooney to show his true feelings first.

Like the play says: "My tongue will tell the anger of my heart, or else my heart concealing it will break."

Which play, you ask?

Oh, do keep up: the one in which a headstrong and obstinate prize is psychologically manipulated by an older, wiser head.

My good lords and ladies, I give you: The Taming of the Roo.