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Rooney Tunes

The face of English football pulled a LeBron on his fans. Now what?

It was the most farcical decision since The Decision. When Manchester United star Wayne Rooney announced last week that he wouldn't extend his contract, which was set to expire in 2012, the fallout in England was predictably hysterical. Pundits projected that Rooney would be sold in January to United's nouveau-riche crosstown rival Manchester City, a prospect that turned Rooney's fans against him overnight. One sign at Old Trafford on Oct. 20 read WHO'S THE WHORE NOW, WAYNE?—a dig at reports of Rooney's history with prostitutes—and police had to disperse a group of as many as 40 masked protestors who gathered menacingly, chanting death threats outside Rooney's house.

Then on Friday came the news: Rooney was taking his talents to ... Manchester United. It had all been a negotiating ploy. After signing a new five-year contract, Rooney was all smiles posing with manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "I have talked with the manager and the owners," Rooney said, "and they have convinced me this is where I belong."

The saga left fans gnashing their teeth and Rooney conducting damage control. But it also set up some rollicking storylines for the rest of the Premier League season. Can Man U's American owners—the Glazer family, which also owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—maintain their control? The Glazers put the club in debt when they took over in 2005, incensing fans, and Rooney's recent questioning of their commitment to buying star players will put pressure on them to deliver. As for Rooney, can he rediscover his mojo? Upon turning 25 on Sunday, he was enduring one of the worst stretches of his career, having scored just two goals in his previous 22 games for club and country. When he returns from an ankle injury next month, the best statement he could make won't involve spin doctoring. If he can score goals and return Man U to the top of European club soccer, last week's farce will be a distant memory.


Athletic administrators in Washington threatened to sanction more than 100 high school football referees who used pink whistles in games last week (and donated their game checks) as a show of support for breast cancer research.



WANTED MAN Red Devil faithful remain united: They want the slumping Rooney to score goals, not split.