Could Fergie cash in on bad-boy Roo to rebuild United?

Wayne Rooney has spent significant chunks of his career having to prove himself after various misdemeanours both on and off the pitch.

Contrition should come as second nature to Rooney, giving his well-documented propensity for self-implosion, his litany of indiscretions enough to make Manchester City's madcap striker Mario Balotelli shake his head in dismay.

And as Rooney prepares for his first game of 2012, away to Newcastle tomorrow, the Manchester United and England striker finds himself in a familiar public position of self-repentance, following his latest disciplinary episode.

Fined and dropped for United's 3-2 defeat to Blackburn for a 'lethargic' performance in training following a boozy Boxing Day night out with team-mates Jonny Evans and Darron Gibson, Rooney's latest transgression could have had far more damaging consequences.

Thankfully for United, Martin O'Neill's resurgent Sunderland ensured Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to omit Rooney had no real implications on the title race by defeating leaders Manchester City to keep both sides level on points at the top.

But Rooney's public admonishment by Ferguson, leaving aside Evans and Gibson, must act as a wake-up call to United's most influential player if he wants to remain at a club whose loyalty he has pushed to the limit in recent times.

The emphatic message Ferguson conveyed to Rooney by taking the action he did was that no player can consider themselves indispensable and beyond reproach, regardless of their perceived status or inflated sense of self-importance.

Many United fans have not forgiven Rooney for threatening to leave the club 14 months ago in his ill-advised and unseemly contract stand-off with the club, before eventually doubling his money by agreeing a new five-year deal worth £200,000 a week.

Rooney publicly questioned United's ambition and commitment to improving the squad with players of sufficient quality in such a crass and disloyal way, it is no wonder so many fans - and those within the club itself - have since viewed him in a different light.

Prior to that episode, Rooney was dropped by Ferguson for a trip to former club Everton in September 2010 at the height of lurid off-field revelations about the forward's private life, then sent to Nike HQ in the US for a week of intensive training.

Despite his huge talent, Ferguson is known to have taken a dim view of Rooney's conduct at various times over the past 18 months and there remain suspicions in Manchester that the errant striker could ultimately be on his way in the summer if he continues to transgress.

Manchester City was Rooney's destination had his contract dispute not been resolved, despite the player's subsequent claim - clearly to appease United fans - that he would not have joined their local rivals had he gone through with his threat to leave.

Had United not managed to tie Rooney down to a new long-term deal, they would have been powerless to stop their prized asset walking away - to City or elsewhere - as a free agent at the end of this season, when his previous contract was due to expire.

But having protected themselves financially with regard to Rooney, selling him for a fee in the region of £50million would enable Ferguson to make significant reinvestment in his squad in several positions, in particular the creative midfielder he so desperately needs.

However unthinkable selling Rooney may seem, it is worth remembering Ferguson has never been afraid to take such bold decisions during his quarter-of-a-century reign at United. In fact, such decisions that have kept United as the country's dominant football force.

As such, the next six months are crucial for Rooney in terms of his United future. Ferguson has shown in the past he can be ruthless with high-profile players when he feels they have served their purpose at United.

Rooney need only look at the unceremonious way in which Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane were shunted out of United for unequivocal proof of that.

If Rooney wants to stay at United and not join that list of Fergie exiles, whose careers were arguably never the same after they left Old Trafford, he must buck his ideas up fast.

***

Read David McDonnell's exclusive Manchester United column every Tuesday on MirrorFootball.co.uk and follow @discomirror on Twitter.

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