Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United side touched down yesterday afternoon in a country bracing itself for a General Strike, planned today in protest at Spanish president Jose Luiz Zapatero's austerity measures.
But while the Spanish nation is not entirely sold on the strike, which the trade unions are forcing through in an attempted show of their strength, Ferguson disclosed last night that Wayne Rooney will be missing for “two to three weeks” — leaving Fabio Capello with only Darren Bent and Peter Crouch from his recognised pool of strikers for England's European qualifier against Montenegro on October 12.
The 24-year-old's absence extends to a seventh month a miserable period which began with the ankle sprain sustained in United's last Champions League trip, to Munich in March.
In season's past Rooney's latest ankle injury would have been deemed disastrous.
United's peculiarly bad record on Spanish soil — one win in 18 attempts heading into this evening's encounter with Valencia — also includes a curious paucity of goals. Five of the last seven games in this country have been goalless.
But there is a sense that the injury has come at a convenient time. Ferguson was irritable when pressed on the nature of the injury — “It's an ankle injury. What do you want me to say? Do you want me to describe every ligament? Christ” — because he wants Rooney in the background, along with the pantomime which seems to accompany him at this tumultuous time in his life.
He may miss only United's home match with Sunderland on Saturday and be back to face West Bromwich two weeks later, all of a fit with the solution already proposed by Bryan Robson — that Rooney should be given two weeks to go away and resolve his life.
Also missing from the flight were Paul Scholes, who will be out for 10 days with a calf injury, and Gary Neville, whose return has been delayed by a virus.
With Ryan Giggs' hamstring pull keeping him out it is a less experienced United side than Ferguson would have liked heading into such a difficult tie against the early leaders of La Liga.
Ferguson provided no sense that Michael Owen's three goals in two games might be enough to give him a chance to nail down a more regular place tonight.
“He is fit, his training performances have been terrific and I think he's improved since he came to our club,” the manager said.
Dimitar Berbatov may be the man to lead the line. Ferguson tends to opt for a 4-5-1 formation on occasions such as this.
The manager was in jocular mood as he served a reminder that he had been involved in a few general strikes in his time and his eyes lit up when asked for the secrets of 24 years in one job.
“If there's a secret I can only say you need energy, you have to live your life the right way and I've always been a saint. Eat the right food, drink the right wine and you'll be okay.”
Something for Rooney to digest as he embarks on his leave of absence.