James Lawton: There’s always time for loyalty . . . despite what Keane wants us to believe
We cannot be sure quite who authored that insulting, squirming statement of betrayal perhaps never exceeded in the history of football shortly before Manchester United went out to play a Champions League match this week.
No-one, though, is entitled to be surprised if it turns out to be an item on the latest invoice of Wayne Rooney's Mr God-knows-what per cent agent Paul Stretford.
But then let's give a little credit where it is due. Whether it was the agent or one of his cohorts we shouldn't forget to tip our hats to the man who provided Rooney with a little, let's say, moral momentum.
It was another former hero of Old Trafford, Roy Keane.
Keane spoke briefly and cussedly and with typical self-orientated bitterness but as it happened he made an illuminating contribution to an affair which, who knows, might still have been causing a little confusion — at least to those beleaguered football fans, of all clubs, not just United, still harbouring the long-shot idea that Rooney's stand might be something more than an act of breathtaking cynicism and ingratitude.
“If I was to offer advice to Wayne Rooney, who is a good lad, I would tell him to make sure he looks after number one. Players are pieces of meat — that how I look at it. When your time's up, your time's up,” he said.
But then, Keano, how do you fill up that time after you have been transported from the backstreets to a Cheshire mansion, if you feel not a twinge of concern about lecturing the most successful manager in the history of English football on the imperatives of ambition, and you are doing it in a period when your form and your image has never been so low?
What do you do with the time and ambition, Keano? Do you just go trotting off to the highest bidder, do you look down your noses at inferior team-mates, because maybe the ball isn't always quite arriving how you would prefer?
Do you fill in some of the time with, amongst other lurid acts the urinating in the street and the occasional purchase of a £200 packet of fags, and then question the right of England fans who have just travelled to South Africa to complain after seeing you put in a World Cup performance that would have scandalised any professional?
Surely, a little loyalty can be squeezed into that time, Keano?
Not the contract time badge-kissing variety, but something that speaks a little of an understanding of the faith and the belief that, quite apart from the fans, a gnarled old warrior like Fergie, admittedly not in the end your or a lot of other's people's cup of tea, has invested in your progress through the game.
Ferguson could not suppress a jaundiced smile when he was asked about Rooney's worries over a lack of ambition at Old Trafford — 27 trophies is something of a statement.
Nobby Stiles left with shattered knees and a perilous bank account after 14 brilliant years.
Stiles knew about loyalty and honour and ambition. It racked in the days after Munich, when he rocked in his grief in an empty church in his native Collyhurst in the day of Munich and this month — isn't the timing odd? — he is selling his World Cup medal out of necessity and for how much?
One estimate is £150,000 or, put another way, somewhat less than the weekly wage Rooney has so rejected so contemptuously.
No, Rooney hasn't ambushed us with the concept of looking after number one, no-more than Keane with the selective memory which shuts out times like the one when Ferguson bailed him out of a Manchester police cell at the end of a lost night.
But then no-one has perhaps ever done it quite so coldly.
One thing at least is certain. Whoever gets Wayne Rooney should not exhaust the ceremonials of hello and goodbye.