Get your BATNA out for the lads; did Wayne Rooney learn from Harvard? (Part 2)

by Peter Smith on October 25, 2010

We discussed Wayne Rooney’s deal with Manchester United here yesterday, and how the negotiation concept of a BATNA played a key role.   So was he consciously or sub-consciously developing that – his Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement – to improve his negotiation position with United?  It certainly looked that way.

For him to get  the best deal, Sir Alex Ferguson (the Man United manager and his negotiation ‘opposition’) had to really believe that Rooney had a strong BATNA.  In this case, that BATNA is very obvious; Sir Alex had to really feel that Rooney was prepared to move, indeed was keen to move, and that other clubs would pay him stupid amounts of money.  Hence the apparent dis-satisfaction with Man United’s ‘ambition’, the stories of Manchester City being prepared to offer £200K a week and so on.  All very cleverly constructed, to the point where the newspapers were saying that ” there is no way Rooney is staying”.

Why then was a settlement suddenly announced? I suspect Rooney and his agent saw that cracks were appearing in their BATNA.  If word got out that his Mother in Law was insisting that he and his wife stayed in the North West of England (as some newspapers have reported), that would weaken his position.  Then the mob who surrounded his house the other night made it very clear how unpleasant his life would be if he joined the other Manchester club.

So suddenly, his BATNA was looking more restricted and therefore much weaker.  And just as importantly, the club might realise that it was weakening.  It is not only how strong your BATNA is; it is how strong your opponent thinks it is.  Imagine how powerful Sir Alex would have felt knowing that a. Rooney had to stay in the area and b. he couldn’t join the only other club with money in the area for fear of his life.

It made perfect sense then for Rooney to decide quickly that he wanted to settle.  And while there are various stories around concerning how good the deal is, it certainly looks like he played his cards well.

What could the club have done better? Their job was to make their own BATNA look as good as possible; that is, to persuade Rooney that it wasn’t that big a deal if he went.  Hence perhaps the reason for dropping him for a couple of games earlier this season.  But that was undermined by United’s poor form, and the lack of any star young players coming through to enable Sir Alex to say (or hint), “we don’t need you Wayne”.  Perhaps the club could have done more on this front; loaning Danny Welbeck to Sunderland, my hometown club, was very kind but perhaps he should have stayed at Old Trafford to be positioned as ‘the new Wayne’.

Anyway, Rooney may not know it, but he demonstrated some key negotiation principles very well indeed!

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