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United striker the face of modern player

In the last two days the most striking pictures of Wayne Rooney have been those showing him in the company not of his manager, but of his agent Paul Stretford.

sports Updated: Oct 21, 2010 00:50 IST

In the last two days the most striking pictures of Wayne Rooney have been those showing him in the company not of his manager, but of his agent Paul Stretford.

As news broke of his desire to leave Manchester United, England's most valuable footballer was to be found on the golf course, shoulder-to-shoulder with Stretford, the former vacuum cleaner salesman turned football powerbroker who will oversee what looks likely to be a seismic uncoupling in the January transfer window.

Rooney's astonishingly hard-nosed decision to leave his employers of the last seven years midway through the Premier League season is, in the first instance, a piece of irresistible soap opera.

At the centre is a relationship between two men, Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson, with 44 years age gap between them.

On the face of it the relationship between player and club has come a long way since. Liberated by European law, players are now more or less free to change employers as they please.

After 15 years of inflation the top stars earn up to £8m per year. Still, though, the balance between player and clubs has remained decisively weighted in favour of the desires of the performing talent subjugated by managerial authority.

Players, largely, are beholden to their clubs. Perhaps the most astonishing aspect in Rooney's story is the mundane reasoning behind his desire to move.

This appears to be largely financial: the current talk is of a bar-raising £150,000-a-week wage if he moves to sheikh-rich Manchester City.

For money, and perhaps also to quench a growing irritation with his overbearing manager, Rooney is willing to push aside so many of football's enduring principles. It is punk-ish behaviour that crashes a fist through football's sense, not just of employer-employee obligations, but of club and supporter loyalty too.

Rooney appears to be closer to a creature from the future: an advanced expression of the modern self-propelling footballer, wised-up; a self-employed businessman beholden to no one and fully aware of his own commercial strength.

Not so long ago, driven by the fame of David Beckham, it was assumed that the competing industry of mainstream celebrity might be the force that liberated top footballers from the clutches of their clubs.

But Rooney is primarily a footballer, his glossy magazine presence fuelled solely by his wife Coleen's career as a carpetbagging celebrity face.

In straitened times, it is money that has had the final word. Rooney is well aware of his own status, both on the pitch and as a powerful instant-recognition tool in football's global markets.

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