A month or more ago, a beaming Leo Messi accepted his third Ballon D'Or, as a rueful Cristiano Ronaldo could only look on. Barca, his team was unstoppable, a force of nature, moving inexorably to the Liga title, entertaining fleeting thoughts of who they would meet in the Champions League final. Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, was the perfect foil to RVP with his season stats reading 12 goals and 12 assists. FSC merrily advertising every Man Utd match with his epochal bicycle kick forged in a celestial abode. No, everywhere and however far you looked there was not a wrinkle. We could see for miles and the coast is clear, not even a bobbing boat in sight.
What has happened to these two? Have they had perhaps consumed more horsemeat than the rest of us know? The media is awash with how Messi has lost his mojo as Barca finds they cannot escape mortality and their main man's leaden foot. In what was billed as a Rooney vs Ronaldo showdown, it wasn't even who blinked first as Nani took centrestage and then administered the coup de grace on Arbeloa. Rooney came on for sloppy seconds late, very late and then in what should have been a picture perfect moment whacked the ball high over the crossbar. He is now the subject of intense speculation as PSG becomes his favoured destination to join Joey Barton and keep Twitter afloat for another decade as they tag team Robert Huth and the nearest Moroccan take out.
Horseradish. Actually, it's the media that might have had too much horsemeat. Have the footballing gods decided before you can say Luka Modric, these two are passe? Does fatigue mean anything or the fact that Barca have an interim coach to a replacement for the one who should have been there mean anything? Essentially, they've been upended by unforeseen circumstances and it involves a life threatening condition. They would have regrouped under Pep Guardiola on a simple premise. His previous four seasons led them to heights previously untouched. History in this case is an undeniable aphrodisiac.
In Rooney's case, this is not new. This was an entirely tactical decision to keep him in reserve should Utd fall behind as they did because of an entirely self inflicted wound. Beckham, RVN, and Jaap Stam have gone the same route in high stake matches. There is nothing to suggest in previous performances this was calculated to drive a stake through his Utd career. He has proved nothing but versatile and he can play a false nine as well as he can a frontline striker. Sir Alex is a master at getting the best out of his players, giving a bit less, a bit more, as motivation. Chalk this down to a gambit gone wrong.
Remember CR7's ineffable sadness last summer led to a media obsession he was tired of eating humble pie or the more self centred reason of the Bernabeu not clapping hard enough for him till their palms were flayed off all skin. He was leaving in a rocketship for the Aldebaran extra- terrestrial league. And if you look at Real's performance yesterday, till Nani wielded the axe on his own foot and Mourinho decided to bring Modric out of the mothballs, Real were going nowhere but down. Football is funny, we love to build them up, we love to tear them down. The truth lies somewhere in between.
Milan better watch out because Messi will hound them till they say Sharaawy and Rooney before the season is up will be asked to fill his amount on a blank check. They is going nowhere.