So pleased had the club’s owners been with the impact David Beckham has had in France, the logic was the Manchester United player would bring marketing oomph to the club, open it up to a wider audience, not just in the UK but across the world used – thanks to the ubiquity of the Premier League - to its football in an English-language environment.
And that’s what the Qataris who own the place want: exposure of their country to the widest audience possible, to position it at the heart of football, in a valiant attempt to graft some sort of logic on to the insane decision to award the country the World Cup in 2022. Massaging that absurdity is the driving force behind the purchase of PSG. And Rooney would fit nicely into the plan.
It was an interesting yarn I thought at the time. The only flaw being that Manchester United would not wish to sell a player so crucial to their momentum. Which is probably enough of a flaw to ensure it would never happen. After last night, however, I am not so sure it was as ridiculous a notion as I first thought.
Last night was United’s biggest game of the season and Rooney was not considered central to their plans. It appeared, when the chips were being placed on the table, the United manager preferred Robin van Persie as his spearhead. Indeed, never mind he was reckoned less important than Van Persie, Rooney was also deemed less crucial than Tom Cleverley, Nani, Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck. For a player of his standing, that was some knock to his self-esteem.
Rooney is too committed an individual to sulk on the bench. When called upon, with 20 minutes of an increasingly forlorn pursuit remaining, he did his best. He ran hard, selflessly covered back in defence, galloped and charged across the pitch. But he was chasing a lost cause. More to the point, his arrival to the fray made no material change to the team’s fortunes. Unlike David Beckham, snubbed in the same circumstances in 2003, he did not put himself at the centre of the story by his contribution.
What was evident from last night is that his manager has changed in his view of the player. No longer is he the rock around which the team is anchored. No longer is he the first name on the team sheet. Sir Alex Ferguson said he was left out for tactical reasons: Welbeck was better at closing down the space in which Xabi Alonso liked to work.
That was a particularly pointed snub. This has always been one of Rooney’s great strengths as a player: his workrate, his willingness to sweat for the cause, to play to the game plan, a trouper prepared to do whatever is necessary. Now someone else is reckoned a better bet even at that. For 50 minutes, Ferguson was vindicated. Sadly, when Rooney was given the chance to prove the boss wrong, he didn’t.
And so with one selection choice, everything changes. The idea of a PSG bid does not look as preposterous a flier as it did but 24 hours previously. If he is expendable, then suddenly he has a price. With his contract up for negotiation, the manager might well believe now is the time to cash in, perhaps use some of the funds to bring Ronaldo back.
Ferguson is a matchless judge of a player. Across 26 years at United he has only got it wrong a couple of times. If he believes he is seeing signs of decline in Rooney – and he has spoken often this season about the player’s need for fitness – he will be ruthless in the speed of his action.
Commit the club to another five-year contract at over £10 million a year for a player physically diminishing, or cash in on his renown while there is a well-resourced buyer in the frame? After last night, that choice looks one that will not be easily dismissed.
How times change. The last time he was up for contract renewal Rooney’s representatives extracted a stonking new deal by suggesting he was on the point of departure. The word was the club was not matching his own ambition. Three years on, the club is edging towards a position where he is surplus to requirement.
The irony of Rooney’s exclusion was that the man now occupying his once seemingly untouchable place in the line-up hardly lit the game up either. Van Persie looked like a man suffering from the downside of an unusually injury-free season: his form – no goals in the past five games – suggests the kind of dip that comes with fatigue. But it also hinted it could be him next.
Football is nothing if not a rolling demonstration of the harshest lessons of Darwinism. Everyone – even the greatest – eventually find themselves expendable. Time catches up with them all. Except Ryan Giggs, obviously.