Manchester United fears it will be left with little choice but to sell Wayne Rooney to its big-spending crosstown rival, Manchester City, according to two sources close to the club.
United, which defeated Turkish club Bursaspor 1-0 in Champions League play on Wednesday, was rocked to the core by a pre-match statement from Rooney that confirmed that the England forward wants to quit the club.
After Rooney cited concerns over the Red Devils' financial future and their "continued ability … to attract the top players in the world," United now has little option but to cash in on him during the January transfer window, before his contract is allowed to run down and his value decreases.
That leaves Manchester City as the most likely destination, as it is bankrolled by Arabian billionaire Sheikh Mansour and has more readily available cash than any other team in the world.
And while other clubs such as English Premier League champion Chelsea and Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona also would be interested, there is a growing belief that Rooney's preferred option would be a move just down the road.
"That would be a nightmare situation for United, but it is a nightmare that became a lot more probable over the last few days," said an EPL source who has worked closely with United.
"Would they want to sell him to City? Of course not. It would be a blow to everyone – the fans, the players, not to mention giving a huge lift to their local rivals. But it is a business, make no mistake about that, and City is in pole position to make the best and most lucrative offer. If that is the case, then that is where he will go."
Rooney also could dramatically increase his salary at City, which last summer made Yaya Toure the highest-paid player in the EPL, enjoying a weekly wage of around $306,903.17 (USD). Rooney was offered $285,915.35 per week to stay at United before contract talks broke down, according to Sky Sports News.
Yet the 24-year-old, who established himself as one of the world's top players last season before a drastic dip in form, insists that his reasons for moving on are not motivated by money.
"I met with [Manchester United chief executive] David Gill last week, and he did not give me any of the assurances I was seeking about the future squad," said Rooney. "For me it's all about winning trophies."
Manchester City's pedigree cannot match that of United or any of the other teams that would be interested in signing Rooney. However, the financial power of Sheikh Mansour can't be underestimated, and indications are that City's ownership group will stop at nothing to turn the club into one of the most successful in Europe.
That means spending money – and lots of it.
City's money puts them at the front of the race to sign Rooney, "and United knows that," said a second source close to the club. "It is going to be a case of getting over the emotional and unsavory part of it and getting the highest price possible."
The blue and red Manchester divide is one that rarely is crossed, although Carlos Tevez did effectively pave the way by making that switch 15 months ago.
Personal factors also come into play with Rooney, with serious doubts over whether he could and would be able settle overseas, with a different language and culture. Chelsea is a viable EPL option, however Rooney has spent his entire life in northwest England and relocation to London may not appeal to him.
Furthermore, Rooney is attempting to save his marriage to wife Coleen after much-publicized liaisons with a prostitute. Coleen Rooney's 12-year-old sister Rosie suffers from Rett Syndrome, a neurological and developmental disorder, and recently suffered complications; it is highly unlikely that Coleen would want to leave the area.
We take a look at the possible destinations where Rooney could end up:
Why: It is close, ambitious and laden with the money needed to both satisfy Rooney's wage demands and pay for the player investment he wanted at United. And, if Rooney is feeling bitter toward Sir Alex Ferguson and United, this would be the ultimate payback.
Why not: Such a move would make him a pariah among United fans and be considered the ultimate sacrilege at Old Trafford. But does Rooney really strike you as the sentimental type?
Odds: 60 percent
Why: Carlo Ancelotti would love to add Rooney to his lineup, especially with Chelsea's outstanding frontline, led by Didier Drogba, advancing in years. Signing him would serve the handy extra purpose of shredding United's title hopes.
Why not: Money could be an issue. Despite Roman Abramovich's billions, the Russian has tried to curtail recent spending. Paying Rooney monstrous wages could prompt several current players to knock on the door and politely request a salary increase.
Odds: 20 percent
Why: Jose Mourinho admitted he would love to sign Rooney – but believes the striker will work through his problems and remain at United. Real Madrid loves its Galá ;cticos, and Rooney would certainly fit that category.
Why not: Recent spending has been slow, and club officials have insisted that winter spending will not happen on any significant level.
Odds: 12 percent
Why: Like any other soccer fan, Rooney loves the way Barcelona plays and the chance to link up with Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta would certainly be enough to pique his interest.
Why not: Barca is currently wracked with internal strife and is unlikely to sanction any big signings until a thorough investigation of its finances is complete.
Odds: 6 percent
Why: From a purely soccer standpoint, Arsenal would be a solid option. And if Rooney wanted to put his recent woes behind him with a complete change of scenery, then either AC or Inter Milan may hold some appeal.
Why not: Not enough money, not the right lifestyle choice.
Odds: 2 percent