LONDON - In eight months Wayne Rooney has plummeted from "the best player in the world" to a substitute against West Bromwich Albion and his current position on the Old Trafford periphery will need to be sorted out very soon.
Manchester United's fans - and their American owners - do not expect the England striker to be warming the bench, particularly when the player says he is fit, even if manager Sir Alex Ferguson says otherwise.
British media suspect a falling-out with Ferguson but United issued a statement on Sunday describing as "nonsense" suggestions that the striker, bought from Everton for 25 million pounds in 2004, was about to be sold.
It may be harder to deny, however, that his relationship with Ferguson is not completely harmonious.
Rooney certainly did not resemble on Saturday a man who appreciated being "rested" by his boss.
His argument, according to British media on Monday quoting unnamed "sources", is that he can never rediscover the form which marked him out as one of the global game's top players without actually getting match practice with his club.
Rooney's contract, reported to earn him around 90,000 pounds a week, expires at the end of next season.
If, as the newspapers claim, he is refusing to sign an extension, United might have to consider trying to recoup some of their outlay before he becomes a free agent in June 2012.
It is quite a contrast from last season, when Rooney scored 34 goals.
Observers queued up to describe Rooney as vying with Lionel Messi for the "best in the world" tag but it all started to go wrong when he twisted his ankle in the last minute of a Champions League match against Bayern Munich at the end of March.
He came back too soon, clearly unfit, and did not score again all season.
Instead of the World Cup becoming his crowning glory, it became an albatross around his neck as he stumbled from game to game looking jaded and desperately out of touch.
He looked little better in his return to the Premier League before stories about his private life broke, claiming he had been unfaithful with a prostitute while his wife was pregnant.
Ferguson left him out of United's game at Everton in September, saying he wanted to spare him the vitriolic taunts of his former fans, then also left him out of the team against Valencia, saying he had an ankle injury.
Rooney, whose only United goal this season was a penalty and who last scored for them in open play in March, hit back last week saying he was fine, had not missed a day's training and did not know why his manager said he was injured.
Having shipped out the likes of David Beckham, Paul Ince, Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy after differences of opinion, Ferguson has shown that he is unsentimental when it comes to personnel problems and the next few weeks of the Old Trafford soap opera are going to make fascinating viewing.comments