Rooney saga leaves sour taste
Just about the same time as an angry balaclava-clad mob descended on Wayne Rooney's Prestbury mansion, Manchester United were delivering a clue that their journey into the Cheshire countryside may have been wasted after all.
The terms and timeline of Rooney's Old Trafford departure were expected to be confirmed after talks on Thursday between United chief executive David Gill, manager Sir Alex Ferguson and the player's representative Paul Stretford.
Surely there could be no pulling back from the brink after claims and counter-claims from Rooney and Ferguson as it was revealed United's finest player wished to leave, damning United with a lack of ambition as he went?
And yet, after Ferguson insisted the saga would be "put to bed", there was a holding statement with an unmistakeable tone of conciliation that urged patience from supporters.
The door was indeed open, as Ferguson had always said, and on Friday lunchtime Rooney strode through it armed with a new five-year contract to conclude one of the most unlikely about turns in recent sporting history.
Sport has an endless capacity to surprise, but events at Manchester United this week have been head-spinning even by football's standards.
And even as Ferguson and Rooney smiled alongside each other on Friday, there is still plenty of unfinished business in this very public and damaging saga.
Rooney was, to all intents and purposes, an ex-Manchester United player after taking the extraordinary step of challenging Ferguson's word and authority over a recent ankle injury, before condemning the club's lack of ambition and casting doubts on the quality of his team-mates as he demanded to quit the club.
If Rooney was producing a check-list of all the routes out of Old Trafford, he covered them all. He said and did enough to alienate his manager, team-mates and most certainly those United fans who will never believe they are second best.
So it takes a mammoth leap of the imagination to presume that Rooney's world will now resemble a millpond.
The emotions stirred by his desire to leave, and the possibility of Manchester City being his next destination, were clear from the abusive banners at Old Trafford during the Champions League game against Bursaspor on Wednesday.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Wayne Rooney following the signing of the new contract
Police being called to disperse the sinister figures outside his home and his face on a poster outside a Manchester store being daubed with the slogan "Join City And You're Dead", simply underscored the ill-feeling Rooney had created against himself.
Now peace has been declared, what are we left with?
Given Rooney's complaints that Gill had failed to give him assurances about United's future squad, it has to be presumed that he has been handed guarantees by the board and the Glazers before signing his contract.
This will not, however, dispel the cynicism from many that this whole episode has simply been leading towards yesterday's endgame - Rooney receiving a lengthy and vastly-improved contract negotiated by the ever-present Stretford.
For Ferguson, it is a victory in that he keeps his most-prized player, and Rooney's decision to stay confirms the manager's often-stated conviction that United can compete where and when it matters in the transfer market. Just not yet.
If United fail to bring in the marquee stars Rooney appears to be demanding, then presumably he will be back banging on the manager's door asking to leave once more - unless his hurt is eased sufficiently by his new contract.
And yet the image of Ferguson as the manager who rules over all, who deals ruthlessly with any insubordination and laughs in the face of any attempt at player power, has taken a hit.
But he kept the door ajar, because this time he knew the player was too good, and the rest of his squad not good enough, to simply kick him out.
In other times a player who indulged in such bare-faced contradiction of Ferguson would have been yesterday's news - and yet it appears Rooney is of such importance to United that he is above that law.
Will Rooney now feel emboldened to challenge Ferguson again in the future should he feel the need? He did it this time and his punishment was a pay-rise and guarantees that United's squad will be improved to meet his requirements.
Others might say Ferguson has won the day by hanging Rooney out to dry before he was backed into a corner to sign his new contract. Maybe, but how many other players would have been indulged in similar fashion by Ferguson?
Will other players at Old Trafford note this treatment? You suspect they will.
As for Rooney, I was convinced he had burned his bridges with his cold assessment of United's failure to match his ambitions and a badly-coded condemnation of his current team-mates.
He seemed assured about his ability to challenge for all the top prizes, but his statement effectively said he was not so sure about the rest of United's squad.
Rooney's words will have undoubtedly angered some team-mates, so now he must go about regaining their trust and loyalty. How would Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville have reacted to the young upstart telling the world he did not think their beloved club was quite up to the mark any more?
Last, and by no means least, Rooney's bond with United's fans - unbreakable until a couple of weeks ago - needs repair on an industrial scale.
Football support can be fickle, but the vitriol poured on Rooney in recent days must leave a residue of mistrust and betrayal. It may even leave a permanent scar. Any dip in form will see these doubts about Rooney resurface among Old Trafford's loyal following.
Rooney can produce performances to make Manchester United's fans forgive, but there will be many who will never forget and for this he only has himself to blame.
This is why the facade of satisfaction at Manchester United failed to disguise the rebuilding of a reputation that Rooney must embark upon.
Fortunately for Rooney, he can be in command of that renewal with his greatest talent - namely his ability to win football matches for Manchester United.
Rooney must produce his biggest performances on the field to make good the damage this turbulent week in the history of Manchester United has caused off it.