The cow in the next field

SOMETIMES, even no news is news. Witness the Sky Sports News yellow Breaking News ticker, the 21st century’s answer to the Allied Carpets sale. Around 7pm last night, it flashed yellow with this gem: “Manchester United statement: No developments to report today.”

It reminded me of a Yorkshire Evening Post headline from a year or two back, when Leeds United were trying to fend off interest in Jermaine Beckford. This was some time before Everton got him, and Simon Grayson was happy to report on this particular day, with the transfer window drawing to a close, that he had received no bids for the striker.

As a result, the YEP’s back-page headline, in shouty 120-point capitals, was “ALL QUIET”. That could only ever be surpassed if another newspaper one day led its front page with “NOTHING TO SEE HERE” or “MOVE ALONG NOW”.

We may have to wait a while before the Wayne Rooney saga’s next significant plot development, in much the same way that Coronation Street is in limbo while everyone waits for the tram crash which will mark the 50th anniversary episode in early December.

In Rooneyworld, we’ve had the big dramatic twist, the announcement that he wants to leave, the link with a move to Manchester City, a remarkably well-judged response from Sir Alex Ferguson (followed by his random introduction of a cow metaphor) and a rant-out-of-nowhere from Ian Holloway. And then, last night, a group of around 30 United fans went too far in making their feelings known by unravelling a banner with the words ‘Join City & die’ outside his house.

Such sinister developments aside, I can’t see how much further this plot strand can go before the January transfer window opens and something actually happens. Or doesn’t.

Of all the words written and spoken about Rooney since the story broke last Sunday morning, I suspect Ferguson’s cow metaphor will be remembered longest. Delivered in a press conference after Wednesday night’s unmemorable Champions League victory over Bursaspor, it was a statement of Cantona-esque wonder.

“Sometimes, you look in a field and see a cow,” Ferguson said. “You think it’s a better cow than the one you see in your field. That’s a fact. It never really works out that way.”

An odd way of re-phrasing the proverb about thinking the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence – but a memorable one. If Rooney leaves and fails to prosper, you can guarantee it’s a quote that will be thrown at him over and over again. Ferguson knew what he was doing.

The cow in the next field is looking pretty good, though. Manchester City, without always being terribly convincing, lie second in the Premier League, three points and two places above their neighbours. They don’t have the trappings of Champions League football at Eastlands yet, but that will surely come next season. After all the money City have spent, it has to.

One criticism that could be levelled at City in the early weeks of the season is their reliance on Carlos Tevez. Of their 12 Premier League goals this season, Tevez has scored seven. His two at Blackpool last Sunday got his side out of a hole in a match they could well have lost. So it’s not good for the nerves of City fans that the Argentina striker has declared during both of the last two international breaks that he is tired, disillusioned and thinking of retirement.

Tevez has been sensational since his rather convoluted move across Manchester the summer before last. (He was only ever on loan at United, but it felt as if he was their player, and his loss to City was met with rather more than a shrug of the shoulders by the Old Trafford faithful.) Top scorer at Eastlands last season, top scorer this.

City have spent £340million on talent in the two-and-a-bit years since Sheikh Mansour bought the club, yet it could be Tevez who makes the difference between success and failure in the push for Champions League football. And Rooney could be forgiven for wondering if a similar move would work for him – although City’s fans seem rather less keen on their club snapping him up.

Rooney has looked weary of late and, unlike Tevez, has seen the goals dry up. One solitary penalty against West Ham is not much to get excited about. Even before the ankle injury which forced him out of Wednesday’s game, Rooney had been given plenty of bench-warming time this season.

Tevez had not. And so Roberto Mancini, mindful of the need to give his star man a breather, rested him for last night’s Europa League game against Lech Poznan. Emmanuel Adebayor, a man who is no stranger to transfer controversy, was given a start up front. And what do you know? He not only broke his duck for the season, but ended up with a hat-trick.

Adebayor could have scored half-a-dozen, as his height, strength and deftness of touch caused all sorts of problems for the Lech defence. His first was slotted neatly into the corner from a Patrick Vieira pass, his second headed in from David Silva’s cross. It was not the last contribution the outstanding Silva would make.

As all this was going on, Poznan’s star striker kicked his heels on the sidelines. Latvian striker Artjoms Rudnevs, scorer of a Europa League hat-trick against Juventus in Turin last month, was bizarrely left on the bench, only making his entrance 10 minutes into the second half.

The reason? According to a Polish journalist, coach Jacek Zielinski was giving him a breather. The theory was that Zielinski saw little hope of getting anything at Eastlands, and wanted Rudnevs fresh for the next league game, as the Polish champions attempt to improve on a miserable domestic start which has left him in their top flight’s bottom three.

His replacement up front, the agricultural Joel Tshibamba, bundled in his first goal for the club shortly before Rudnevs came on – after which Poznan looked a far more threatening side. Rudnevs, only 22, and only signed from Hungarian club Zalaegerszeg in the summer, has already been linked with Blackburn, among others. I doubt we’ve heard the last of him.

The night belonged to Adebayor, though, as he touched in Silva’s beautifully-judged through ball with 17 minutes left to send City to the top of one of the Europa League’s 12 groups. A place in the post-Christmas last 32 is theirs to lose now.

Rooney’s rift with United (but not his desire to leave) became public after he contradicted the club stance on the state of his knee in the Wembley mixed zone – where journalists get the chance to stop players for interviews – following England’s goalless draw with Montenegro 10 days ago.

Adebayor, whose City future has been the subject of much speculation – some of it generated by him – decided against stopping for questions in the Eastlands mixed zone last night. He gave one brief television interview for Channel Five, stating his delight at becoming the first player to score a European hat-trick for City, and that was that.

No news, then, on whether Adebayor is currently looking at a cow in another field. All quiet, you might say. At least until Sunday, when his former club Arsenal visit Eastlands. Adebayor was once a hero at Emirates Stadium. He’s not now. In fact, he could probably tell Rooney a thing or two as to how quickly those who once idolised you can turn if you leave on bad terms.

UPDATE: Friday, October 22, 1.25pm: And sometimes, the final twist comes out of the blue. Hands up who woke up this morning expecting Rooney to sign a new five-year contract at United? And no, even I don’t think it was Ferguson’s cow metaphor that persuaded him…


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