Writing on the wall for Wayne Rooney
Ferguson may deny it, but striker's omission from the starting squad against Real seemed to point to the end of his tenure
Should you demand immediate reaction to Manchester United's team selection for the FA Cup sixth-round clash with Chelsea at Old Trafford tomorrow, simply follow Coleen Rooney's Twitter feed.
She is likely to reveal how the starting side goes down in one of the English Premier League's foremost families.
"Can't believe @WayneRooney isn't starting tonight!!!" posted the "fuming WAG" when she heard her beloved was on the bench against Real Madrid for the contentious midweek Champions League clash.
Social networking sites and flurries of exclamation marks are the default mechanism to which stressed celebs and their spouses turn whenever life's frustrations niggle. Yet who can blame Rooney for her impulsive missive?
She is a mother of young children and a doting wife, after all. The news that her hubby could be looking for a new job come the summer is naturally upsetting. And with his price tag touted at a risible £20 million (HK$234 million), a hand-wringing wife is entitled to fret if the bacon is to be a few rashers lighter.
Rooney's surprise omission from the starting line-up for the biggest game of United's season sprayed the writing on the wall in 10-metre letters: "Thanks and goodbye".
Ferguson is a master tactician and it was obvious to all (except the angry wife) that Rooney's absence at kick-off was no marginal decision. This was a calculated move on the cards for several weeks.
You do not discard proven match-winners on a whim for a historical Champions League decider. You carefully omit players surplus to requirements.
Clearly, Rooney, 27, was not to be trusted with the task and thus is no longer central to United's master plan. Concerns over his fitness have grown and clearly United are preparing for life after his world spins away from Old Trafford's orbit.
The exit door was unlocked with a loud clunk on Tuesday and if an acceptable offer is forthcoming, Rooney's 10-year career at the club will soon end, despite Ferguson's subsequent protestations to the contrary.
Bundles of irony can be found in Rooney's £250,000 weekly pay packet. The emergence of the younger Danny Welbeck and the arrival of the top-notch players Rooney so craved to play alongside - Shinji Kawaga and Robin van Persie - have exposed England's top striker and sidelined him to bit-part roles.
His fate is eerily similar to that of David Beckham, who was left out of the starting 11 for the second leg of United's Champions League quarter-final against Real at Old Trafford in April 2003. He was sold to the Spanish club for £25 million two months later.
No one is suggesting that Rooney's relationship with Ferguson has deteriorated to the same extent as "boot-gate" Beckham. But it has not been the same since the manager accused his striker of disrespecting the club when he almost left for Manchester City in 2010.
Ferguson has made blunt references to Rooney's fitness. The manager's expectations have not been sated - despite Rooney's 14 goals from 24 starts and his better time-and-contribution ratio than Van Persie. In 1,500 minutes of playing time, Rooney has scored 11 and set up nine strikes, most contributing to match wins.
He said last month he expected to hit peak form "from now and across the next four or five years".
Yet months ahead of his 28th birthday next October, serious doubts about his ability to perform into his 30s have surfaced in his manager's mind. Nature dictates that Rooney's bulky frame means he will not be able to defy the ageing process like Ryan Giggs, who, 12 years his senior, was picked ahead of him to face Real.
Ferguson has planned ahead and the cash he will receive for Rooney will help fund one of the targets - Robert Lewandowski, Gareth Bale, even Cristiano Ronaldo - on his wish list.
Two years remain on Rooney's contract but pride and a desire to be a first-choice striker point to a summer exit, and the bookies agree.
But where will he go? Who will buy him? Of course, several clubs will bite United's hand off. Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal all have the financial clout. Younger players are targeted by City and Roberto Mancini's future is uncertain.
Conspicuous by their lack of interest in England's star man are the European titans, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich.
"It's got to be a big worry for Rooney," said Michael Owen, the Stoke City striker and former United and England teammate. "For him not to start is a real kick in the teeth."
It is also a kick in the teeth for fans, Red Devils and neutrals alike. Rooney was viewed as a potential great - up there with his former teammate Ronaldo, comparable to Diego Maradona, likened to Brazil's Ronaldo and certain to kick on and equal Lionel Messi.
But no. Rooney is typically English - a player who promised so much but is now viewed by one of the greatest managers as a star on the wane.
Once more it seems England has failed to produce a true star that stays the course, puts his head down, adopts the discipline and sacrifice needed to enter the pantheon.
Rooney can, of course, turn it around at United and has 10 games left to do so but few would put money on it.
"Don't know much about football, so not trying to say anything!! Was just excited to watch my husband play in a big game! Hopefully he will," tweeted a back-tracking Coleen Rooney after her first tweet met with derision for questioning Ferguson's decision.
It's enough to make you tweet her back: "Yes, we're all hoping he will!! Starting tomorrow!!!"