Perhaps the biggest shock of the night yesterday wasn’t when United were unceremoniously dumped out of the Champions League by a strong Real Madrid side, but when Sir Alex Ferguson named a side that didn’t feature United’s usual talisman Wayne Rooney. On ITV, Roy Keane questioned whether it was the end of the road for the English striker, and you’d have to agree that it certainly looks that way.

So why was he left out? Having returned from injury in good time to play all 90 minutes against Norwich on Saturday, we can safely assume that he was fit enough – which was backed up by Mike Phelan when he said after the match that ‘all the players in the dressing room were fit to play.’

Some argued that he was left on the bench so that the team could be much more balanced around a compact and solid 4-5-1 formation, but the truth of the matter is that he could have replaced any one of Giggs, Nani or Welbeck and would have shown his usual workrate to make sure that Real Madrid were effectively neutralised. How many times this season have we seen Rooney pop up in his own 18-yard box to block a shot or win the ball back? To say that he was left out so that Nani and Welbeck could perfrom a more defensive role beggars belief.

If we rule out injury and tactical positioning, the only reasonable explanation is that Fergie has decided that his face doesn’t fit anymore. With Robin van Persie now the fulcrum of the attack (even though he did have a poor game yesterday), Fergie can drop Rooney at will without having too many complaints from fans, or even having too much of an effect on the team’s attacking ability.

Somewhere in the back of Fergie’s mind, he will be remembering the times when Rooney has let him down over the years – the times when he has brought the club into disrepute by urinating on the streets, night clubbing into the early hours, having affairs, and ending up on the front pages of tabloids, bringing a ‘media circus’ to United that Fergie hates.

There was also the transfer request saga which saw the player openly question Ferguson’s team, ambition and managing ability. At the time, Ferguson had to bow down to player-power and accept the actions of his star player, but now that he has other options, maybe its pay-back time for Rooney? Since the acquisition of the Dutchman, Rooney is no longer indispensable.

The omens don’t look good. Beckham was left out of the United side the last time Real visited Old Trafford, and was gone in the summer. Van Nistelrooy was famously dropped in the Carling Cup final, and was again gone in the summer. Will Rooney follow? I think so.

Agree? Disagree? Tweet me – @ftbllr