Wayne Rooney read the writing on the wall when he became aware of Sir Alex Ferguson's comments following his impressive goal against Norwich on Saturday.
'He has been out for two or three games and this was good for him,' said Ferguson. Faint praise, indeed. And, when Ferguson speaks so limply of you, it is easy to feel a little damned.
Rooney, however, should have recognised the warnings of trouble ahead much sooner. Saturday's comments were an indication of receding chances of selection for Tuesday's Real Madrid game.
Surprise: Wayne Rooney was left on the bench for Manchester United's clash with Real Madrid before coming on to replace Tom Cleverley (below) deep into the second half at Old Trafford
But it was Ferguson's reaction to Rooney's opening performance of the season, at Everton last August, that served notice of a threat to the forward's future at Old Trafford.
In Ferguson's view - and Rooney's people have always denied this - the England forward reported for duty at the end of his summer break somewhat overweight. Some people at Old Trafford suggest it was by as much as half a stone. Whatever the case, Rooney's manager was unimpressed.
Seven months down the line, Ferguson remains unconvinced. The issue threatens to undermine the relationship between the manager and a player he did so much to keep when Rooney asked to leave two-and-a-half years ago.
Rooney's value to United when he is fit and lean and driven remains enormous. He may not have the style of Robin van Persie or the speed of young Danny Welbeck. But he has the ability to inspire and lift this United team like no other player at the club.
His problem, however, is that he no longer has Ferguson's complete trust. His manager continues to suspect Rooney is not in optimum condition. The player insists his lifestyle is not a contributing factor and there is no concrete evidence either way.
Nevertheless, occasional photographs of the 27-year-old with a beer or cigarette in his hand have not helped soften the irritation felt by a manager who still rarely misses a thing.
Happier times: But Rooney's relationship with Ferguson has a 'strange vibe', according to one senior player
At Carrington, United's players recognise the signs of a problem. Ferguson's relationship with Rooney has not deteriorated to the point of open warfare, far from it. There has been no public finger pointing. At times, some humour remains.
One senior player, however, has told this week of a 'strange vibe' between the two. 'It's as though there is something waiting to come to the surface,' he said.
Rooney remains popular with the majority of players at Old Trafford. Some do feel he has lost his edge as a player, though.
They see the longevity of stars like Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and wonder if Rooney - as much as a decade their junior - will manage to prolong his career in such a way.
Ferguson has talked repeatedly of Rooney's fitness this season. It has become a theme. According to the United manager, the former Everton star has either been seeking to find, regain or maintain his match sharpness for most of the campaign.
On the Wayne: Rooney has endured a difficult season at Old Trafford and faces an uncertain future
Rooney picked up a bad injury against Fulham during United's first home game of the season. That apart, only a couple of minor injuries to ankle and knee - in November and December - and a recent short illness have caused him to miss training. This does make it peculiar that, in Ferguson's eyes, he always seems to be seeking full fitness.
Rooney has featured in 32 competitive games this season. That is only seven fewer than Van Persie and seven more than Ferdinand. Is it a situation to knock an athlete in the peak years of his career from his stride? One would think not.
Certainly Rooney faces a challenge as he seeks to regain a place in Ferguson's long-term plans and a spot in the team for the matches that count.
Key man: Rooney's chances have become limited since the arrival of Robin van Persie from Arsenal
In October 2010, Rooney asked whether United were good enough for him any more. Now he must ask himself the same question in reverse.
With only a handful of clubs across Europe having the wherewithal to buy him, the future is delicate.
Whatever Ferguson decides, renegotiating Rooney's £200,000-plus-a-week salary was never going to be easy as it enters its final two years this summer.
If United do decide to sell it would be a risk to offload him to a club in England - such as Manchester City or Chelsea - with whom he could do his present employers serious damage.
Dip in form: Rooney, cigarette in hand, relaxes on his honeymoon in Las Vegas
That would only leave the usual candidates such as PSG - who are looking for a partner for Zlatan Ibrahimovic - and maybe the Milan clubs.
For Rooney, dreams of a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona have perhaps long gone. It should be remembered that Rooney has scored 14 United goals this season. That is not a bad return for a player who rarely plays as a central striker.
As ever where Ferguson is concerned, though, it is wise to look beyond the obvious. It is undoubtedly true that Tuesday night's selection was about much more than what was right for one match.
TAKING STOCK: WHAT SIR ALEX HAS SAID ABOUT ROONEY'S FIGHT FOR FITNESS
September 1, 2012
'Wayne is no Ryan Giggs. Ryan has never put a pound on in his whole life. Wayne is a boy that needs games, you can see that from the frame he's got. He is stocky, strong and really needs games, simple as that.'
October 7, 2012
'He is very stocky, he is going to have to train well all the time, there is no doubt about that.'
December 1, 2012
'I think Wayne is the type of player who can't miss games. The frame he's got, the type of person he is, he needs to play all the time.'
December 5, 2012
'Wayne needs to play a lot of games to get his match-fitness up. 'He's a strongly built lad and when he misses two games it takes him three games to come back. It's the way he's always been.'
March 5, 2013 prior to the vital Real Madrid match
'Wayne looks like he needs a game or two. He did well in the second half on Saturday. He'll probably come on and win the game for us hopefully.'