THE 'TOUCHSTONE'

Last updated : 30 August 2004 By editor

'Old Trafford is looking for a touchstone player, has been since the retirement of Eric Cantona. Ronaldinho could have been the successor, but United did not recruit aggressively enough and the Brazilian chose Barcelona. While they questioned whether they could afford Rooney, the real question this time really should have been whether they could afford not to buy him. Although only 18, Rooney did show at Euro 2004 that he is not a character overawed by the big stage. Many have been overwhelmed at Old Trafford, but Alex Ferguson recalls Cantona walking into the Theatre of Dreams, sticking out his chest and saying that this was the place for him. Rooney appears to have a similar mentality.

He has similarities as a player to Cantona, too. Strong and powerful, he also has a neat, cushioned touch. Above all, his movement is excellent, as he drops off defenders to receive the ball at the timeliest moment. At the risk of upsetting Tyneside, there could be no choice for Rooney between Newcastle and United. Passionate and loyal the fans may be in the North-East, but few young players have prospered in its singular, insular environment in the past few years.

In Manchester, Rooney gets to be near his Liverpool roots, but with healthy distance from them. And Champions League football. For anyone interested in football's finances, Manchester United are the model. Their wage bill is less than 50 per cent of turnover - astonishingly low in comparison with badly run clubs who have even gone above 100 per cent. Even plc boards, however, must understand that football can be a business like no other. Sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. Rooney may not have been in the budget until next January, but circumstances, like such a player becoming available, dictate in this case. When all the smoke and mirrors are cleared away and, holidays over, we settle down to four months without Premiership movement, expect Wayne Rooney to be settling in at Old Trafford.'