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Rooney may have played his last game for Manchester United

Make no mistake, Wayne Rooney could be leaving Manchester United.

Ahead of today's FA Cup third round trip to the blue half of Manchester, United denied rumours that their star man is about to head off for pastures new.

But it appears that Rooney's current club will not be his last - and it certainly seems possible that the player could wear the blue of United's local rivals at some point.

It isn't quite 'when not if' just yet, but the signs are already there that Rooney is thinking about what he might do next - and, perhaps more importantly, Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be losing patience.

We've been here before with Rooney, who handed in a transfer request in October 2010.

And we've been here before with Ferguson, who has never had a problem offloading his so called 'star players'.

Celebrity lifestyle

He decided that David Beckham's celebrity lifestyle was too much of a distraction and, when Cristiano Ronaldo expressed his desire to leave, Ferguson wasn't about to try to hold on to a player who didn't want to be there.

Then, of course, there was Carlos Tevez. Ferguson didn't lose any sleep over that departure.

This isn't so much about what is best for Rooney. Ferguson's success has always been built on moulding a team capable of winning trophies. You get the distinct impression that Ferguson feels his star player is becoming something of a bad apple in the camp.

If reports are to be believed, the two are not getting on. Ferguson wasn't happy that Rooney decided to enjoy the festive period more than he deemed was acceptable and promptly dropped the striker. And Rooney is also beginning to lose patience.

Beckham is the benchmark here - and, as with Ronaldo, Ferguson is ultimately only going to want to hold on to a player if that is best for United. There are a lot of similarities with the Beckham situation - and a player who doesn't want to stay is a player that Ferguson doesn't want to keep.

The club is bigger than both of them

So what happens next? If Rooney is going to stay at United, he needs to patch up his differences with Ferguson. Sir Alex is more important to United than Rooney, and the club is bigger than both of them. Ferguson's only goal is to do what is right for United.

There is no doubt that United will move on at some stage. The red half of Manchester did not collapse and die after Beckham left and life after Ronaldo has been pretty good too - and United fans laugh at the mention of Tevez these days.

There is life after Rooney. It is just a matter of time.

It remains to be seen if Rooney will still be a United player after the end of January. City have the resources to buy him and if he wants to leave badly enough, United will be willing to let him go as long as it represents good business for the club.

The bigger picture is not about how long Rooney has left at United. The club has an exciting future ahead - and rest assured, at some point Rooney will be gone and we'll be talking about the 'next big thing' at United.

By Mark Roach 

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