Ronaldo unlucky, Tevez careless, Rooney beyond belief
According to psychological convention, the stages of loss include shock, pain, anger, denial, bargaining and finally acceptance.
At the moment, as they face up to the departure of their finest player, one of the few unimpeachable greats left in red, Manchester United fans are at that first juncture: no one quite knows how to react now that Wayne Rooney has decided he wants nothing more to do with the club.
Walking to the ground, a few fans tried to essay the chant that had rung out wherever he played for the club:
"Saw my mate the other day,
Who said to me I've seen the white Pele,
So I ask who is he?
He goes by the name of Wayne Rooney."
But for most, there was a kind of morose, untargeted fury: someone was to blame for the loss of their former favourite, the man whose muscular skill so closely identified with their own vision of the club, and no one could quite agree who it was.
Alex Ferguson's brilliant occupation of the moral high ground at his press conference on Tuesday confused the issue further. If Ferguson had not spoken so candidly, the knee-jerk response of the fan would have been to embrace the errant son, wrap him in a great communal hug, the warmth oozing from the stands demonstrating that he would be mad to go.
But then, Ferguson so expertly positioned Rooney as the guilty party, treacherous, greedy, ungrateful, that certainty had dissipated.
But then, in the great PR battle unfolding across Old Trafford, Rooney himself came out to speak yesterday. He revealed that he had been to see United chief executive David Gill in August and had failed to gain assurances about investment in the squad.
Instead of Mezut Ozil and Rafael van der Vaart, Rooney had seen arriving over the summer Chris Smalling, Javier Hernandez and Bebe, some bloke picked up from a Portuguese street.
In an era when top players remain with a club not through loyalty or love, but because the ambition of the institution matches their own, United's debt-strained parsimony has severed his connection. With this, his last big contract on the table, he saw the writing on the wall: he did not want to carry a diminishing side for the next five years. He wanted to win trophies.
And, if they search their conscience, most match-going United fans have been saying the same thing for some time. Back in May 2008 at the Champions League final in Moscow, Ferguson sent out the following front six: Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez, Hargreaves, Scholes and Carrick. No one could suggest that a front six of Nani, Berbatov, Hernandez, Park, Fletcher and Carrick -- represents progress on that.
To lose one of a magnificent threesome who might have legitimately been mentioned in the same breath as Law, Best and Charlton, may be considered unlucky. To lose two careless. To see all three go is beyond easy comprehension.
As it happened, the man himself was absent from the fray last night, so presented no easy target for the dismay. An injury, apparently, with a wonderful piece of hubris, inflicted on the training pitch by the loyal stalwart Paul Scholes, kept him away.
There was no sign of him on the bench. If he was in the directors' box, those in the ground were unable to see him. Instead, talking in the bars, they sought answers: "why", "where" and "when" echoed around the lobbies.
And gradually a consensus emerged. The real villain of the piece, the one identified by many making their way to their seats, was Malcolm Glazer, the man who managed an astonishing piece of financial alchemy by turning £100m working profit into an £80m loss and in the process lost them their favourite. (© Daily Telegraph, London)