United hit by Rooney's exit plans

As Wayne Rooney plots a route out of Manchester United, the rest of the squad will want to prove they can cope without the disgruntled striker and have the quality to regain the Premier League trophy.

The 18-time champions go to Stoke on Sunday for its first league game since Rooney went public with his desire to leave. The team is also trying to end a streak of three straight league draws, having fallen five points behind leader Chelsea.

Rooney told chief executive David Gill last week that he wanted to leave the club he joined in 2004 after failing to get assurances it would spend heavily on top-class players in future transfer windows.

But even with Rooney looking likely to leave, manager Alex Ferguson has been quick to reassure the other players—and fans—that the future is bright at Old Trafford.

“The structure of the club is good—we have the right staff, the right manager, a brilliant chief executive,” Ferguson said. “There is not a thing wrong with Manchester United ...
we still have that fantastic romance, and respect from everyone.”

With Rooney already sidelined with an injury, United secured a 1-0 victory over Turkish champion Bursaspor on Wednesday to stay top of its Champions League group.

The goal came from Nani—one of the players Ferguson has been nurturing since signing the 23-year-old winger three years ago. The manager stressed that his policy has long been to buy young talent and then develop them in the club, rather than spend heavily on players who have already become stars.

Developing footballers
“To maintain the success at any club is not a certainty,” the 68-year-old Ferguson said. “I always believe a four-year cycle is the most you can achieve. Very few teams can go beyond that.

“We realised some time ago that Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville were not going to last forever. Therefore our policy is to develop footballers in the place.”

In fact, even after Rooney joined United in 2004, Ferguson recalled there were doubts in his own squad about the Everton recruit’s quality.

“A player said to me Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were not good enough and he wasn’t prepared to wait,” Ferguson said. “That is the problem with potential—people don’t identify potential. We are very good at it. I have identified it all my life. I know potential. I know where it can be developed and how to develop it. I have faith in it.

“That is what this club is about.”

Ferguson was planning to meet Gill on Thursday morning to discuss what to do about the 24-year-old Rooney, who still has 20 months remaining on his Old Trafford contract.

Rooney had celebrated a hat trick of Premier League titles until Chelsea—now a possible destination for the England striker—regained the trophy in May by a single point.

While Chelsea had appeared to be cruising toward a successful title defence, a draw at Aston Villa last weekend left it just two points ahead of Manchester City, which won at Blackpool.

And Chelsea—like United—has resisted lavishing funds to capture the world’s biggest players recently after owner Roman Abramovich ushered in a new era of prudence.

Forward Salomon Kalou, though, is pleased to see the club’s teenagers breaking into the first-team squad.

“When they have the opportunity they are going to really show what they can do,” Kalou said. “It is a good squad. There is a combination between young players and old players and the old players try to give their experience to the young ones, and the manager knows how to bring the best out of the young kids.”

Liverpool, meanwhile, goes into Sunday’s home match against Blackburn having won just one of its eight league matches. Only a superior goal difference is keeping the 18-time champions out of last place in the standings.

The club was taken over last week by John Henry’s New England Sports Ventures—the Boston Red Sox owners—but kept struggling on the pitch, losing the Merseyside derby at Everton.

“It is a little rocky patch we are going through at the moment but as long as the players, manager and supporters all stick together it won’t be a problem,” defender Jamie Carragher said. “The spirit in the dressing room is fine but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out if you win games it is a lot better.”

Sunday’s other match sees second-place Manchester City host Arsenal.

In Saturday’s other matches, Tottenham hosts Everton, Birmingham takes on Blackpool, Aston Villa goes to Sunderland, Fulham is at West Bromwich, Wigan hosts Bolton and bottom-place West Ham faces Newcastle. - Sapa-AP

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