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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Will United fans forgive and forget?

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney (R) smiles as he talks with England manager Fabio Capello (L) before taking his seat in the crowd during their Premier League match against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford

Football fans are very forgiving types – if my football club were a person I’d have stopped speaking to it a long time ago.

Pretend for a minute you are Manchester United and Wayne Rooney is your best mate. He swears undying loyalty to you – it’s a friendship that will last forever. Then suddenly he tells you you’re basically not good enough for him and that you should get lost.

In real life you and Wayne would be finished – no going back. And you might hammer the message home with a barrage of four-letter words. If he doesn’t want you, it’s his loss.

In football life, you sweet talk him, tell him he’ll never have to buy a beer again and kiss and make up.

Rooney has not played a game since his shocking change of heart over signing a new contract but after returning from an intensive week of training in the United States, his return is imminent.

Will the Old Trafford fans who a month ago waved banners along the lines of “We won’t forgive you” simply tip-ex over the “won’t”?

Based on what other terrible things we forgive our teams for – relegation, 9-0 defeats, selling our best players, penalty misses and extortionate ticket prices – the answer is probably yes.

But it seems this generous spirit of forgiveness does not stretch towards the club’s owners.

When United’s American owners, the Glazer family, announced this week they were repaying a 220 million pound payment-in-kind (PIK) loan, they seemed to be having a change of heart. They said they were not using club funds to repay the debt, which seems different to their previous approach of burdening the club with huge debts.

Coupled with the fact that they managed to give Rooney the assurances he needed about the club’s ambitions in order to sign a new deal, it would seem that the Glazers are really trying to show they have the club’s best interests at heart.

Instead, the slightly unexpected move to repay the debt has triggered suspicion among fans, who are wondering exactly where the money is coming from to make the payment if it is not from the club.

“Now is the time for the Glazers to finally come clean and tell the truth about what is going on at Manchester United and what their plans are,” a statement by the Manchester United Supporters Trust said.

“What have they got to hide? No more secrecy. No more spin. Just tell the fans the truth.”

Rightly or wrongly, perhaps that last part is precisely the reason why Rooney will be forgiven and the Glazers, for now, will not. The striker was honest about what he didn’t like about the club and the whole saga was played out very publicly, while the Glazers are keeping their cards close to their chest.

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