Gary Neville understands why Wayne Rooney might want to leave for China but hopes he stays at Manchester United at least until the end of the season.
The striker’s agent, Paul Stretford, has flown to Asia to hold talks with Chinese Super League clubs before their transfer window closes on Tuesday.
Rooney has 18 months left on his contract with an option to extend the deal by a year, but has started only three games in the last two months.
However, former United team-mate Neville says it would be “strange timing” if Jose Mourinho allowed him to leave now with the club still fighting in four competitions.
“I’d like to think Wayne Rooney would stay at Manchester United,” he told Sky Sports News HQ.
“It’s strange timing – the [English] transfer window over and yet this debate when there’s still two months of the season to go. That seems odd. There’s still a contribution to be made and many trophies to be played for and won at United.
“I’ve known Wayne for a long time but I haven’t spoken to him; I’m waiting to see what happens but the timing seems odd when United need their squad. Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay left in January, which means the squad – if they got two or three injuries – would be depleted.
“The fact they’re still in the Europa League, playing very important games in the league and the FA Cup and have a cup final, I’d imagine Jose would want his squad in place.
“I can also see the other side of it that if Wayne’s unhappy and doesn’t want to sit on the bench, maybe there would be a move. End of the season, I could maybe see something but why now? I’m not sure.”
Mourinho cast fresh doubt over Rooney’s Old Trafford future when – speaking before his side’s Europa League win over St Etienne – he admitted he could not guarantee the club’s record goalscorer would be at Old Trafford at the end of the season.
Neville reflected on the struggles of Premier League stalwarts nearing the end of their careers but empathises with the draw of regular first-team football and insists a potential move to a league attracting serious investment should not invite criticism.
“I saw at United very good players – Nicky Butt, my brother Phil – who got to the point where they wanted full-time first-team football,” Neville said.
“For myself, and others, you could say we were happy, once we got to 33, 34, that we could still make a contribution, even if not every game. It’s down to the individual and it’s up to Wayne how he sees it.
“You think about what John Terry’s doing at Chelsea but Jamie Carragher didn’t find not playing easy at Liverpool, Steven Gerrard the same.
“Wayne Rooney is one of those great players who’ve played in the Premier League for the last 10, 15 years that now has that decision to make. Does he want to make a contribution to United in a different way or does he want to be the first name on the teamsheet and play every week?
“I’ve been over to China a couple of times over the past 12 months and people who talk about it as if it’s a flash in the pan are wrong – it’s not. They’re going to invest heavily in the game from grassroots through to the star players. We’re only seeing the star names and the big salaries but the work that is going on at grassroots level is incredible.
“I think it would be ignorant to suggest that going to China is some sort of holiday. I know it will regarded as that and the salary’s probably the most attractive thing but in terms of the game, they are serious about it.”
Gary Neville was speaking at the Hotel Football in Manchester where he and David Prutton stepped in to manage a team of youngsters representing Manchester United and Southampton in a mini-EFL Cup Final. To find out the result, watch Game Changers on Sunday morning on Sky Sports Mix.