At about ten to nine, UK time, on Tuesday night, everybody thought the big story the next morning was going to be Wayne Rooney's omission from the Manchester United starting line-up to face Real Madrid in their Champions league last sixteen tie, and how well United had played without him. Then Nani was sent off, Sir Alex Ferguson went ballistic, Jose Mourinho made a substitution of magnificent ruthlessness and everything was changed. Yet the Rooney issue remains pressing.
Ferguson didn't show at the post-match press conference, instead sending his assistant Mike Phelan who said the manager was too "distraught" to attend. Perhaps he was: after all, his side had looked to be in control of the game, he seemed to be winning the tactical battle, when Nani was sent off 11 minutes into the second half. But his non-attendance also meant he didn't have to answer questions about the decision to omit Rooney from the starting line-up.
He had spoken about the issue before the match - but there is a difference between the gentle questioning of a brief TV slot and the adversarial to-and-fro of a full press-conference. "Wayne Rooney needs a game or two," Ferguson said. "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."
Ferguson's decision was vindicated. Welbeck was superb and it was only after he had moved left to cover for Nani that Real began to get on top. Equally the decision to field Giggs on the right paid off as he checked Fabio Coentrao's runs far better than Rooney had done in Madrid three weeks earlier. There was talk of a sinus infection but a tweet from Rooney's wife Colleen before the match suggested she didn't think it was bad enough to affect his participation.
The fact Ferguson so clearly did get it right makes things worse for Rooney. After all, one of his great attributes as a player - arguably his greatest asset - has been his ability to hustle and harry. He is a rare breed in having both great technical ability and great strength.
Many full-backs play like frustrated forwards; Rooney at times plays like a frustrated full-back, coming back, scrapping for the ball. Over the past couple of years there have been times when his aggression, his willingness to go hunting for the ball, have allowed United to play two more cerebral, ball-players at the back of the midfield. Rooney had provided the dynamism and aggression all sides need in midfield.
If Ferguson considers Welbeck better able to provide that - if he considers the 39-year-old Giggs more able to provide that - even after Rooney's impressive display against Norwich at the weekend, then what does it say for Rooney's future? What has happened to the great hope of English football?
When Rooney emerged in 2003 as a 17-year-old he seemed a ludicrous talent, a player who could almost single-handedly end England's trophy drought. Perhaps he would have done the following summer in Portugal, when he dazzled in a major tournament like no English player since Paul Gascoigne in 1990, before breaking a metatarsal in the quarter-final.
And the Gascoigne comparison is apt. Physically they are not dissimilar - both players who combine great skill with physical power, slightly flabbier than might be ideal, red-faced brawlers rather than graceful athletes. They share a tendency to self-destruction, the flash of temper, the propensity for injury, the tendency to become involved in unfortunate off-field shenanigans. Rooney is 27 now, the boy-wonder no longer. In terms of medals he has achieved more in his career already than Gascoigne did, but it feels at the moment that his career is likely to become another story of not quite living up to potential.
But what feels significant is how Ferguson's attitude towards him has changed. In 2010, Rooney was struggling badly with ankle ligament damage, yet Ferguson had him patched up and sent him out to play in the Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich. Rather a half-fit (if that) Rooney than almost anybody else, seemed to be the message. Rooney, perhaps realising his power, demanded to leave in October that year, his arguments that the Glazer ownership of the club had not brought sufficient world-class signings eventually quelled by a contract worth £250,000 a week.
In the summer, Ferguson, despite apparently needing a dynamic midfielder, spent his transfer budget on two players who replicate the roles Rooney can play. Robin van Persie, signed from Arsenal for £25million, is a goalscorer, a leader of the line, somebody who, even when he isn't scoring, can unsettle teams with his movement. Shinji Kagawa, brought in from Borussia Dortmund for £18 million, is an industrious and intelligent presence at the front of midfield. United have signed precisely the players Rooney demanded - and now he is the one who has had to make way.
The balance of power in their relationship has been hinted at in Ferguson's occasional sniping at Rooney. He admitted concerns about his player's physical preparedness earlier in the season, even describing the horrific gash he suffered against Fulham in August as "a blessing" because it meant Rooney could work on his fitness. Now United have a squad stuffed with attacking talent, Rooney has no option but to dedicate himself.
Ferguson has made surprising team selections before of course, and it would be dangerous to read too much into this one. But with Ferguson apparently keen on the Dortmund forward Robert Lewandowski, it is clear that Rooney is far from the indispensable figure he once was.
Whether any suitor could afford him is another issue. But with two years left on his current contract - the time when most clubs and players look to start renegotiation - it is club rather than player that holds the upper hand. The promising youth has gone; Rooney is approaching a time when he has to deliver.