Wayne Rooney's Manchester United days numbered after shock omission from Real Madrid clash
The public announcement system was playing 'Should I Stay or Should I Go?' by The Clash as news of Wayne Rooney's absence from the Manchester United team seeped out just before 6.45 last night.
It was purely coincidental of course, but it could not have been more appropriate.
Rooney had already lost his position as the main man at Old Trafford to Robin van Persie long before Alex Ferguson revealed his starting XI against the Spanish champions to the squad at 5.30, but it remained a seismic decision by the United manager to drop his one-time star player .
It even prompted Rooney's wife Coleen to tweet: "Can't believe @WayneRooney isn't starting."
As he took his place on the substitutes' bench, Rooney might just have been humming The Clash's signature tune to himself, pondering what happens next, but the reality is that his wishes will count for nothing if Ferguson has already made his decision on his value to the team.
If Rooney is not required to start United's biggest game of the season – their biggest since the 2011 Champions League final – then the message from Ferguson is clear: Rooney's time at Old Trafford is up.
"Maybe the writing is on the wall for him," said Roy Keane in the ITV studio before the game.
"We have to trust the manager a bit tonight but in terms of the way Wayne carried on in the last year of his (previous) contract.
"Maybe he has decided to go about getting Robin van Persie up and running."
Ferguson's justification for the selection was rooted in his belief – aired previously this season – that Rooney's fitness is not what it should be.
"Wayne Rooney needs a game or two," Ferguson said before the match. "He did well in the second half against Norwich, but he looked like he needed a game.
"It is one of these situations where we regard the qualities of Real Madrid with Xabi Alonso as controller of the team. Young Shinji Kagawa found it hard to do that defensive job in the first leg. Danny Welbeck is the best in our team at that, and that is the reason I have selected him."
History shows that Ferguson has a habit of sacrificing his biggest stars on the biggest occasions, however, and Rooney is merely the latest.
From dropping Jim Leighton for the 1990 FA Cup final replay to leaving David Beckham on the bench against Real in 2003 and replacing Ruud van Nistelrooy with Louis Saha for the 2006 League Cup final against Wigan, Ferguson has been bold amid the fiercest heat.
The latter two had left Old Trafford within six months of Ferguson swinging the axe; Leighton never recovered his place. Keane did not last too long after criticising his team-mates in an MUTV interview either.
Rooney was summoned from the bench, but he will be hurt and angry by his demotion and will hardly accept life as a bit-part player at United.
But, as Keane remarked, the writing has been on the wall. Ferguson's comments about Rooney this season have been lukewarm at best, often critical, but the summer signing of Van Persie has ensured that it is no longer the Wayne Rooney show at Manchester United.
Rooney has struggled to influence the big games but, despite shining against Norwich last Saturday, Ferguson's mind was clearly already made up.
So what happens now?
In an interview in the match programme, Rooney was asked what superhero's power he would choose. His answer – to be able to predict the future – was telling.
Rooney's contract enters its final two years this summer, so it will be a key moment. United are unlikely to sanction four or five more years of £250,000-a-week wages for a squad player, so the summer is the time to seek a buyer.
Approaching his 28th birthday with his career having reached a plateau in recent seasons, United can forget about banking £40m for the one-time golden boy of English football, especially when that kind of money could get you Luis Suarez or Edinson Cavani – younger players, in better form with brighter futures.
Manchester City? They were close to signing Rooney three years ago, when the forward threatened to leave United for a club more capable of matching his ambition, but they have moved on and have other targets.
Three years ago, Rooney believed that United were not good enough for him, but the wheel has turned full circle.
Ferguson's selection last night made it clear that Rooney is no longer good enough for them.
His call to arms from the substitutes' bench will have done nothing to alter that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)