It appeared to be only a matter of time. With fans growing restless, Wayne Rooney keeping quiet and Chelsea counting out their cash, many expected the Manchester United striker to be swapping red for blue before the transfer window eventually closed one anti-climactic night in September.
Of course by then we knew Rooney was going nowhere. He had only recently produced a man-of-the-match performance against the side so desperate to sign him. But ultimately it was the club desperate to keep him that got their way.
And now it is clearer than ever exactly why David Moyes stood firm when Rooney’s love affair with Old Trafford seemed not so much on the rocks as forever cast adrift.
Much has already been written about United’s poor start to the season. But were it not for Rooney, you could replace ‘poor’ with ‘catastrophic’.
Aside from their opening day win against Swansea City, United have relied on Rooney to carry their faltering early campaign.
In the 0-0 draw against Chelsea, he was the stand-out performer, seemingly proving a point to both the club who had so publicly pursued him and the one who shunned each and every offer.
In his next appearance against Crystal Palace, he scored the second goal in a victory that had much to do with a mistakenly-given penalty for a foul on Ashley Young outside the box. And the England striker then scored two goals and produced another sterling performance against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League.
Scoring the first and later the vital third, Rooney’s performance prompted Moyes to tip him as one of United’s all-time greats.
In the derby day debacle just a few days later, Rooney was the only United player to come out of the match with his pride intact; his attitude impeccable and his consolation-goal masterful. While in the League Cup the following week, it was Rooney who set up the only goal of the match against Liverpool.
Given that the same man scored a quick but ultimately irrelevant equaliser against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, one thing is clear. Rooney is returning to something resembling his best form just as his teammates appear to be capitulating.
As the rumour mill went into overdrive this summer, some United fans cited the presence of Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and all as reason enough to sell Rooney.
But given how the season has gone so far, those same fans should reflect on what could have been and breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Rooney was never going to be allowed to leave Old Trafford this summer. Not only because of everything he had already done, but because of everything he still had to do – like single-handedly keeping them in the game, while his teammates attempt to follow his lead.
Is Rooney vital to any short-term success David Moyes may enjoy at Old Trafford?
image: © nasmac