EITHER by design or coincidence, Sir Alex Ferguson spent much of last season emasculating Wayne Rooney as a Manchester United player.
So there is a certain irony that, having now broken his silence on the England forward, Ferguson has signalled Rooney’s return to top billing at Old Trafford and his renewed status as the most important player in David Moyes’s squad.
In the words of the former United manager, Rooney was, at various stages of the campaign, lacking the fitness, focus or form to be selected for the first-team before seemingly cutting him loose by revealing to the world that the 27-year-old had made it clear to him that he wanted to leave Old Trafford this summer.
Robin van Persie had become the new apple of Ferguson’s eye and Rooney, having taken the club and manager to the brink in October 2010 by threatening to leave over concerns about United’s ambition, was now expendable.
Van Persie’s contribution to United’s title success in his first campaign at the club, coupled with Rooney’s fall from grace, had left the Liverpudlian out of the team and seemingly on his way out of the club.
He was at his weakest position since arriving at Old Trafford from Everton in August 2004 and the gun he held to United’s head during that tumultuous week three years ago had now been turned on him by Ferguson.
When Ferguson revealed his claim - later vigorously denied by the Rooney camp - that the player had asked to leave at the end of April, the reaction of the United supporters was akin to a collective shrug of the shoulders.
One or two booed Rooney when he collected his Premier League winners’ medal at the end of the season, but in general, the mood was one of apathy.
Rooney had not done enough last season to justify a supporter-led campaign for him stay, so a summer of discord was allowed to drift on, with Chelsea failing with two bids for the player before he eventually defused the situation by letting it be known that he would not ask for a transfer.
His issues remained, mainly his broken relationship with Ferguson, but also the club’s failure to defend him against the Scot’s claims and their refusal to discuss a new contract during the summer.
Yet Moyes has spoken of Rooney’s importance and the supporters have since begun to chant his name and show him the love he was denied by Ferguson last season.
But having been central to Rooney’s determination to leave, Ferguson has now taken away the strongest plank of his argument by offering conciliatory words rather than condemnation.
Would Ferguson have done so had Rooney not been in such spellbinding form this season?
Probably not, which tells you that Rooney now matters again to United and that reality has swung the balance of power back in the player’s direction for the first time since the whole messy saga began.
By speaking positively about him, Ferguson has given Rooney his strength back, so the big question now is how the player and his representatives decide to use it.