Sir Alex Ferguson slammed the final nail in Wayne Rooney's coffin by excluding him from Manchester United's starting line-up against Real Madrid on Tuesday, and several national newspapers are now reporting the striker will be sold in the summer.
Over at the Times, "Rooney braced for United exit" runs the back page headline, with the sub-head describing him as "furious" at his midweek demotion. The Mail meanwhile opt for "Rooney fights for his future" and describe Ferguson as "fed-up" with his one-time talisman.
And that is why Rooney is now seemingly expendable at United. The summer arrivals of Robin van Persie and Shinji Kagawa put his future in doubt to a degree, but it took Ferguson's bold selection for the second leg to prove Rooney was now merely a squad player.
Ferguson even threw a barb Rooney's way when he suggested he needed "one or two games" after he was asked why he had preferred Danny Welbeck. It was not the first time this season he had questioned Rooney's fitness.
"Wayne is no Ryan Giggs. Ryan has never put a pound on in his whole life," Ferguson said in September. "Wayne is a boy that needs games, you can see that from the frame he's got. He is stocky, strong and really needs games, simple as that."
Gallingly for Rooney, Ferguson was justified in starting the impotent Welbeck, who successfully exerted pressure on Real's arch conductor Xabi Alonso and troubled Raphaël Varane and Sergio Ramos in the visitors' defence. Rooney eventually emerged as a substitute in the Reds' Champions League defeat and missed a presentable chance when he volleyed into the Stretford End, as Ferguson's 10 men offered a spirited onslaught on the Real goal.
End of the road: Rooney was only a substitute against Real Madrid
Rooney's relationship with Ferguson has ostensibly soured since 2010 when the 27-year-old informed Ferguson he wanted to leave the club.
The irony is back then Rooney questioned the club's ambition in improving the squad two-and-a-half-years ago. Now Van Persie and Kagawa have joined, Rooney has been downgraded from a pivotal to a peripheral figure at Old Trafford.
Although Rooney did a U-turn within days of Ferguson confirming his desire for a transfer, unrest recurred a year later when he was fined and dropped for the New Year's Eve defeat to Blackburn after a night out with his wife as well as United teammates Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans and their partners. He arrived for training the next day the "worse for wear".
This prompted an article by the Independent's James Lawton detailing that a Rooney transfer was on the agenda again. Ferguson was incensed and indirectly lambasted the story - which has since been taken down from the internet - lamenting Rooney's status as "the new Gascoigne".
On the terraces, his name is still hollered loudly home and away but a contingent of United fans have not forgiven Rooney for fluttering his eyelashes at Manchester City in 2010 and would be glad to see him belatedly sold.
Aside from his dubious fitness and squad status, Rooney's form has been inconsistent since his Player of the Year campaign in 2009-10. He scored 34 goals last season a - joint career best - however the figure masked an otherwise suspect performance level.
Rooney's contract expires in 2015 and his considerable wages (he earns in the region of £250,000 a week) would free up valuable funds for Ferguson to strengthen his squad. It would also enable Kagawa - at his best as a central attacker - to occupy a role usually reserved for Rooney.
Rooney's relationship with Ferguson is not as solid as it once was
For Rooney's own sake, a change of scenery may be in order. He has not emerged into the player Evertonians expected him to become at United, where he has often become the team's sacrificial lamb to accommodate Cristiano Ronaldo before Van Persie. He used to be compared with Ronaldo when the duo were prodigious teenagers, yet the only comparison of merit now is their age.
Rooney has played as a winger, a lone striker, a support striker and even as a midfielder under Ferguson, which has hampered his chances of becoming a genuine footballing great.
The quandary is where he would go? Manchester City, very keen to sign him in 2010, will not revive their interest apparently and if he is no longer a first-choice player at United that will not be the case at Barcelona or Real Madrid either.
José Mourinho cheekily said he would happily accept a phone call from Ferguson if Rooney was still for sale in 2010, but his own future at Real Madrid is enshrouded in doubt. Paris Saint-Germain, flush with Qatari riches, are a genuine possibility.
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