Sir Alex Ferguson deemed Wayne Rooney unable to train when he arrived for training on Tuesday morning after a Boxing Day night out, which Manchester United yesterday confirmed resulted in him being disciplined.
Rooney, who has been fined one week's wages of £160,000 by the manager — is understood to have been in on time for training at Carrington the day after the 5-0 win over Wigan Athletic.
But, in a development which left the striker extremely aggrieved, Ferguson did not consider him in a state to train, as United began preparing for Saturday's game at home to Blackburn Rovers — for which the striker was dropped.
Rooney does not believe he allowed his evening with team-mates Jonny Evans, Northern Ireland international, and Darron Gibson, plus partners, to get out of hand — some or all of that group moved on from Southport's Warehouse restaurant, in which Liverpool's Steven Gerrard has a part ownership, to another venue in the town.
Ferguson suggested after omitting Rooney from United's 3-2 defeat to Blackburn that the striker had not “trained well” last week and had been suffering “little strains here and there”, but it is now clear he and the players who had joined him were all heavily fined.
Rooney's sense of injustice is compounded by his belief that he, Evans and Gibson only incurred the manager's wrath because their discussion about how much they had enjoyed the evening happened to be overheard on Tuesday morning.
Word reached Ferguson, who was 70 on Saturday, and the manager called Rooney into his office to voice his displeasure. There is no dispute that some alcohol was consumed, nearly five days before the Blackburn fixture. The three players were ordered to undertake extra training on Wednesday — their day off — and Rooney was told on Friday night that he would be dropped for the Rovers fixture.
Ferguson's firm line, over an evening which Rooney would probably want no public allusion to if he had not conducted himself acceptably, is bound to raise new questions about the relationship of the two men — 15 months after Rooney publicly challenged the club, before securing a new five-year contract.
United insist that the disciplinary action is not out of the ordinary and occurs on a regular basis at United as at all clubs and that both player and manager have now put the issue behind them.
Saturday's 3-2 defeat only emphasised Rooney's importance to United's ambitions after Ferguson, in an interview with the club's television channel, stressed his desire to win a third European Cup before retiring. His statement that he believed he has another three years in the job appears to have set a deadline.
United have fashioned wins over Wolves, Queen's Park Rangers, Fulham and Wigan that were so emphatic and timely that the sick-or-injured list — currently numbering 14 — seemed not to threaten their recovery from Champions League elimination as much as anticipated.
Yet, faced with a heavy pitch, which Blackburn adapted to more readily on Saturday, Ferguson's patchwork line-up, with unfamiliar combinations in the centre of defence and midfield, was exposed.