possible defection to arch-rivals Manchester City last night when a posse of angry fans staged a protest outside his Cheshire home.
Police were called to disperse around 40 people, some wearing hoods and balaclavas, who were said to have been brandishing a banner that warned Rooney: “If you join City you’re dead”.
The unsavoury incident came as United chiefs left the door ajar for the striker to perform a dramatic U-turn and stay at Old Trafford, after a day of talks failed to resolve uncertainty over his future.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had on Wednesday declared he intended to “put to bed” yesterday the matter of Rooney’s desire to leave, which the England star blames on doubts over the team’s ability to win trophies.
But despite an afternoon of discussions involving Ferguson (right), chief executive David Gill, Rooney’s agent Paul Stretford and, via telephone, United owners the Glazer family, no resolution emerged.
It is being viewed as a possible sign of softening on both sides, however, that Stretford returned to the negotiating table, with Rooney’s camp previously having declared his mind to be made up.
An announcement, for instance that Rooney had been placed on the transfer list, had been expected from the Premier League club yesterday. Instead they released a simple statement indicating the issue remained in limbo. “We are aware that there is intense public and media interest on the club at the moment, but there are no developments of note to report today,” it read. “I can confirm a number of meetings have taken place today, including with the player’s representative. The outcome of those meetings will become clear in the near future. In the meantime, fans are asked to be patient.”
Rooney appeared to bid the club farewell on Wednesday when he issued his own statement explaining why he was no longer content to remain with the club that paid £27m to prise him from Everton in 2004.
Ferguson’s pithy response on Wednesday night, in which he rubbished Rooney’s questioning of the team’s potential, merely served to underline the feeling that the situation was irretrievable.
City, who are bankrolled by the oil billions of Sheikh Mansour, are the most likely destination if Rooney does complete a departure that would have been inconceivable just a few weeks ago. However, they would also be the most galling buyers for United fans, who have already seen Argentina striker Carlos Tevez swap Old Trafford for Eastlands, where money is no object to propelling City to the apex of the world game.
With Rooney’s days at Old Trafford seemingly numbered, there is intense speculation about who might replace him. Here are the four front-runners in the race to become Manchester United’s new No.10.
The World Cup winner is reportedly disenchanted with Merseyside life and his Premier League record makes him a ready-made replacement.
CLUB: R MADRID
The Frenchman has struggled to settle at the Bernabeu and is built in the Rooney mould, with endless stamina and a lethal touch.
Scored an incredible 49 goals in 48 games for Ajax and had a good World Cup with Uruguay. Has been linked with a move away from Holland.
The towering Bosnian, linked with a summer move to Old Trafford, boasts an impressive goalscoring record that has alerted Europe’s elite.