Wayne Rooney is set to walk out on Manchester United after a damaging rift with manager Sir Alex Ferguson, according to English news reports.
The disillusioned striker reportedly told club officials he would not sign a contract extension and is keen to be released ahead of the January transfer window, a move that would ensure the maximum financial return for the club, which risks losing Rooney for much less as a free agent when his current deal expires in June 2012.
England's The Guardian reports that, while details remain unclear, Rooney's relationship with Ferguson has deteriorated to the point where the Old Trafford fan favourite feels he can no longer work with the hard-line Scot.
Rooney is said to be aggrieved over the fall-out from damaging tabloid revelations about his private life and Ferguson's subsequent decision to drop him from the team, citing a niggling ankle injury as the reason.
The Daily Mail reports that Rooney felt his omission to the bench for the club's recent matches against Fulham, Sunderland and Valencia was a punishment over the ongoing scandal and last week the England striker responded by declaring his ankle was fine.
Ferguson, who is said to be deeply troubled by the ongoing negative publicity the Rooney scandal has caused, left the misfiring striker on the bench for 70 minutes of the 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
Reports have linked Rooney with a possible move to Real Madrid, although a shock defection to cross-town rival Manchester City seems unlikely, given the club's excessively high wage bill.
News of Rooney's desire to leave the club will come as a deep shock to United's fans, who have watched their side slip to fourth on the back of three consecutive draws.
English Premier League
English Premier League champion Manchester United will start the 2013-2014 season at League Cup winner Swansea.