What do Alex Ferguson, Wayne Rooney, James Milner and Aston Villa have in common?

Written by Dan on October 19, 2010

It might seem like a strange combination to throw together in a headline, but bear with me. I should let you know from the outset that I’m not suggesting Wayne Rooney will be an Aston Villa player any time soon – much as I would love to – but it’s clear he isn’t going to be a Man Utd player for very much longer.

You’ve no doubt seen the revelations in recent days and may also be aware that Alex Ferguson has just confirmed in the press conference ahead of their Champions League game against Bursaspor tomorrow night that Rooney does indeed want out of Old Trafford.

I’d recommend having a quick read through this transcript of his interview with MUTV, but I found this passage particularly interesting:-

Sir Alex Ferguson
There’s been no falling out. That’s why we need to clarify the situation now for our fans. Because what we saw on Saturday was unacceptable. When we were at 2-2 and the fans were chanting for Wayne Rooney, it put pressure on the players and it didn’t do any good for the team. So we’ve got to clarify the situation and try to do it right. There’s no [specific] offer on the table for Wayne [at the moment]

Like many fans, Martin O’Neill’s decisions frequently left me baffled, but my view was that as long as he got results, he deserved the benefit of the doubt because he was privy to information that we’re not. It might not make sense to us, but it could well make perfect sense to those behind closed doors.

Now I know that Ferguson is a fantastic politician and he’s spun this situation completely on its head today, putting Rooney in a virtual checkmate, but the essence of what he’s saying here is absolutely correct: judging from the outside based on appearances often doesn’t help the club, and that’s generally our primary interest, players and managers will always come and go.

SAF also gave a little insight into the chronology of this affair and there are remarkable parallels to our own summer saga with James Milner. When asked by MUTV whether the reports that Rooney didn’t want to sign the new contract he’s been offered, SAF said:-

Sir Alex Ferguson
That is true. David [Gill], in the early part of the summer, had opened talks with his agent. And that was to be continued after the World Cup. I was in the office on August 14 when David told me he’d had a call from his agent saying that Wayne wasn’t going to sign his contract. So then David came across to see me. He said he couldn’t believe it and neither could I. I was dumbfounded, I couldn’t understand it at all because only months before he’d said he was at the biggest club in the world and he wanted to stay for life. We just don’t know what’s changed the boy’s mind. David was shocked, I was shocked.

The fact that this all started prior to World Cup, as was the case with Milner, puts an interesting slant on things, especially Rooney’s poor performance in South Africa.

I’ve also seen mention that Rooney, or his agent on his behalf, had “intimated” that he didn’t want to sign the new contract, much as Milner “intimated” that he wanted to leave Villa Park. Milner’s camp denied it of course, but the rest is history.

One thing’s clear right now: the chances of Wayne Rooney being at Utd next season are practically zero and the chances of him still being there come February seem little better. After a relatively quiet summer transfer window, Man City aside, Rooney could be the catalyst for an unusually busy January window.

What might have been: Ferguson at Aston Villa?

An interesting nugget regarding Alex Ferguson and Aston Villa, unrelated to this Rooney story, emerged yesterday and it seems a good subject to conclude with and tie this mess together. It’s quite the revelation actually.

Patrick Barclay, chief football writer at The Times, was interviewed by sport.co.uk to promote his new biography of Alex Ferguson and revealed that Villa were among a number of clubs who tried to acquire Ferguson’s services before he took over at Old Trafford, but the Scot didn’t fancy working under “autocratic chairmanship of Doug Ellis”.

Patrick Barclay
What made him choose to go to Manchester United? I heard other clubs repeatedly came in for him throughout the 1980s. [Wolves, Arsenal, Tottenham]

Yes, Aston Villa as well but he didn’t fancy working under the allegedly autocratic chairmanship of Doug Ellis. That was the problem there. Wolves also failed their interview. He went down there and he was very unimpressed with the lack of atmosphere around Molineux and with some of the questions the directors asked him. Arsenal wanted him in 1986 but he felt that he wanted to take Scotland to the World Cup that year.

Jock Stein was his friend and appointed him as assistant with Scotland but Jock died almost in Ferguson’s arms in the final group qualifying match in Wales in the October and Fergie felt he had unfinished business on Jock’s behalf. He was going to make a decision on his future after the World Cup but that wasn’t early enough for Arsenal. They appointed George Graham and didn’t regret it. He was actually successful in winning a title in England considerably before Ferguson, two in fact [1989 and 1991]. I think Arsenal had the idea at one stage of having Ferguson and Graham working together.

At Tottenham he had a meeting with Irving Scholar, the then chairman of Spurs. He liked him a lot. They are both mad about trivia and quiz questions, they would have got on like a house on fire but again he just didn’t feel the time was right. He did actually want to win the European Cup with Aberdeen and follow on in Jock Stein’s footsteps in that respect but time ran out on that ambition.

So was it a case of right place, right time that led him to Old Trafford?

Gordon Strachan told me that during that 1986 World Cup he had said to him it was either Manchester United or Barcelona. Those were the clubs he would like to leave Aberdeen for. As it turned out Manchester United came in. This was a bit of an embarrassment to Strachan because ever since he had left Aberdeen for Old Trafford Fergie had been keeping in touch with him. He would tell him about the booze culture and the main culprits so when Ferguson went to the club and attacked that culture and kept tabs on the likes of Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson, Strachan was almost demonised as a sort of spy. In actual fact it was perfectly innocent as he was just keeping up with his old boss. I’ve got a lot of Strachan in the book. He was very helpful and had a lot of fascinating stories like that.

I included the 2nd question since it trickled inevitably to our very own Paul McGrath of course.

So, without Doug Ellis, might we have landed Alex Ferguson at Villa Park? Who really knows? Even without Doug Ellis, I feel reasonably confident that Villa fans would have succeeded where Utd fans failed and booed him out of the club during the first few, trophy-less years.

I’m only half joking.

The situation at Old Trafford is obviously of massive interest, but there are bigger picture issues of an otherwise aging squad, a massively successful manager who has to retire at some point, the outgoing David Gill and the Glaziers of course.

Also, despite Liverpool’s financial rescue this week, they remain a club in a tailspin too of course. I’m not really convinced by City yet and Tottenham’s involvement in the Champions League remains a potential banana skin under the foot of their domestic season.

There are plenty of twists and turns ahead in this Premiership season for sure, but despite our extremely odd start to the season, we’re actually in a great position right now.

There’s a lot to be said for stability.

One final thought about Rooney and his future… what chances of another round of those “Welcome to Manchester” billboards? Now that would really set the cat among the pigeons!