Michael Owen believes Wayne Rooney’s omission from Manchester United’s Champions League starting line-up last night was a “real kick in the teeth” but remains hopeful his former team-mate can rescue his Old Trafford career.
Alex Ferguson’s decision to leave Rooney out of his starting line-up to face Real Madrid could have major consequences for the striker’s United career.
In the past, when Ferguson has left big name players out of high-profile matches, it has proved to be the signal they are surplus to requirements and were to be shipped out at the earliest available opportunity.
David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy were both dispensed with in such fashion, while Roy Keane and Jaap Stam discovered that big reputations count for little when Ferguson reaches a significant conclusion.
“For Rooney not to start is a real kick in the teeth and it’s got to be a big worry for him,” Owen told TalkSPORT.
“It’s the biggest game of the season and the manager has shuffled his pack and not included him.
“Wayne will take it one of two ways.
“He will either get his head down, try to improve and force his way back into the team, or he’ll think, ’The manager has not picked me for the biggest game, he obviously doesn’t fancy me’, and it might not be the end of the story.”
Rooney’s wife Coleen took to Twitter prior to kick-off last night to express her surprise at the 27-year-old’s omission.
However, that Tweet has now been taken down and Rooney has not offered any reaction to last night’s disappointment, positive or negative.
Without some kind of positive statement from the player’s camp about the situation, there is bound to be further speculation about a potential exit in the summer.
Ferguson has said repeatedly this season that the striker needs to play matches to keep fit, and takes time to recover when he has a spell out of the side, the reason given for Rooney’s omission last night.
The United boss has also stressed the professionalism Robin van Persie has brought to Old Trafford this season since his arrival from Arsenal.
It would be easy therefore to draw a negative conclusion about Rooney, although Owen insists he never saw any reason for concern during his three years at United.
“When I was at Manchester United their relationship was very good, they talked, shared jokes and there were no problems whatsoever,” said Owen.
“I would be surprised if it was something of that nature [a falling-out], but the decision to leave him out isn’t going to help if it is that.”
Much interest will now be focused on Ferguson’s team selection for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final with Chelsea.
If Rooney does not make that starting line-up, it is hard to see a way back for him.
Then attention would switch to where he could go.
Two seasons ago, when he slapped in his infamous transfer request, there was a belief he would be willing to follow Carlos Tevez in making the switch to Manchester City.
More recently, Paris St Germain have emerged as potential suitors.
Owen believes both clubs are among a very small number to whom Rooney might be attracted.
“Sometimes when you’re at the level he is at you don’t have many options,” said Owen.
“If you are a mediocre player you have 20 teams in England and aboard that you can move to.
“If Wayne Rooney moves, where does he go to? Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG, there’s only half a dozen teams.
“It’s just speculation though.
“He’s been dropped for one game and I’m sure he will bounce back.
“Obviously Wayne has got to get his head down now and start recapturing his best form.
“He’s certainly got the right attitude and ability to get back into the manager’s thoughts.”