Europe's biggest and richest clubs, including Real Madrid and Barcelona, are picturing Wayne Rooney in their shirt following revelations the striker is ready to leave Manchester United.
Fergie: Rooney wants out
Sir Alex Ferguson revealed in an astonishing press conference that Rooney has turned down a new contract at United, prompting speculation as to who might buy the England star, possibly as soon as the January transfer window.
Rooney has been well below par this season, but that could now be put down to the uncertainty surrounding his future and his 34 goals last term will be fresh in the memory of his potential suitors.
Barcelona are one of the few clubs who could afford Rooney, should they consider the bustling striker a suitable fit for their measured style of play. Barca boss Pep Guardiola told the Sun: "He is one of the greatest players in the world as there are very few players with his qualities. He's a player I admire very much."
Real Madrid have a history of snapping up United's headline acts, having signed David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo previously, and their coach Jose Mourinho on Tuesday said he would be interested in signing Rooney if he does indeed become available.
Mourinho told Sky Sports News: "He will stay. He probably wants to leave for some reason but I believe he belongs to Man United, he belongs to Man United fans, he belongs to Old Trafford. I believe he is going to stay. But if at the end of the day Man United decide that he is to leave, then give me a call. Everybody will be interested (in signing Rooney). But I like him, I like Sir Alex, I like Man United and I believe the best thing for him is to stay there for life.''
In terms of meeting Rooney's high wage demands, which are reportedly central to his decision to leave United, the Spanish clubs have an advantage over English clubs because of the lower taxation rate on high earners in that country. But closer to home, United's local rivals Manchester City could easily afford to splash out for Rooney's services, while Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich could decide to keep one of the Premier League's best players away from his title rivals by bringing him to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has been reluctant to speak about Rooney but said earlier in the week: "We have to wait to see if Wayne Rooney really wants to leave Manchester United, if they really want to sell him. And also if Rooney is on the market, not only Chelsea would be interested but a lot of other teams as well."
Manchester City would naturally be keen on stealing their derby rivals' biggest playing asset and the cash-rich club would be in the best position of anyone to meet Rooney's reported £250,000-a-week wage demands. It's believed Rooney's decision to chase a more lucrative deal was helped in part by his time in England's World Cup squad, which contained some of Manchester City's new highly-paid players. Carlos Tevez, who Rooney outlasted at Old Trafford, is another enjoying his share of City's riches.
Even Tottenham are keeping an eye on the situation. Spurs boss Harry Redknapp on Tuesday night indicated his interest in signing the former Everton player.
"I'm going to speak to my chairman and see if we can get Rooney to Tottenham,'' Redknapp joked ahead of his side's Champions League clash with Inter Milan, before admitting that Tottenham would likely be well down the pecking order of Rooney's potential destinations.
"I doubt very much whether that will happen, but ... if he is going to stay in England, who knows? You've got to be interested when the very best players become available, but it will be a big ask. There will be some big fish out there wanting to take Rooney. He is a fantastic player, he's having a bad spell but he is a great player.
"Wayne Rooney will be a free agent and what an amazing situation. He is going to want a decent signing-on fee, he's not going to be cheap."