Only five months ago I had the pleasure of presenting Wayne Rooney with his PFA Player of the Year award.
It was the biggest foregone conclusion in the history of that famous old gong. The Manchester United striker won by a landslide.
It seemed as though the kid was walking on water and the general consensus was that England could send out 10 monkeys alongside him and still win the World Cup.
As it happened, the 10 monkeys might have mustered a goal against Algeria, but that’s another story.
The pressure on Rooney was grossly unfair and he appeared to come back from the tournament a broken man.
And after an extraordinary seven days at Manchester United, I genuinely fear for the lad’s future.
I’m afraid he could be in a downward spiral and that we may have already seen the best of him.
I hope I’m wrong, both as an England supporter and as an ex-player who, like Rooney, became an overnight sensation as a 16-year-old and had to deal with massive expectations from that moment on.
Everyone seems convinced that now Rooney has re-affirmed his love for United, it is only a matter of time before he is restored to his rightful status as one of the world’s leading players.
And that, as sure as night follows day, he’ll be strutting his stuff on the world stage for another decade.
But I’m not so sure.
Funnily enough, I’m not as bewildered as Fergie that Rooney felt the need to doubt his Old Trafford future.
And my personal hunch is that it wasn’t all to do with money or United’s ambition.
It seems to me that he has simply not been feeling enough love of late at United.
As a result, he has started to doubt his own ability and the commitment of those around him.
It is easy then to fall into some sort of depression and tend towards self-destructive behaviour.
It’s tough enough for anybody to have to face up to their own weaknesses, but 10 times worse when the world and his wife know your business. The danger is he could fall out of love with the game altogether.
That happened to me at the age of 30, when I was sold by Tottenham to West Ham against my wishes. A year later, I quit the game.
Don’t forget George Best’s top-flight career finished when he left United at the age of 27 and that he was well past his prime a couple of years before.
Rooney ‘celebrated’ his 25th birthday last week.
Like George and me, he seems the sort of bloke who loves playing football but doesn’t necessarily care much for the industry as a whole – and wouldn’t countenance a move into coaching or management.
He’s not a footballing ‘lifer’.
Rooney has received a hell of a lot of stick this week, much of it from Ferguson and most of it justified.
He has done a lot of foolish things, leaving his marriage on the rocks and forcing United to wash a lot of dirty linen in public – never Ferguson’s style.
But let me tell you, it can be a truly lonely place, when you’re the main man at a club.
You can be adored by hundreds of thousands of supporters who don’t know you, but you feel as if you have nobody to talk to when you get home.
There is a general impression that football teams are always one big bunch of back-slapping mates.
In reality, though, there are always jealousies, rivalries and paranoia.
And when you start hearing the barbs, perhaps from those on the fringes at your club, it can make you feel frustrated and unappreciated.
You start thinking: “Hang on, I’ve carried you and paid your wages for the last five years, why are you sniping about me?” You can start to think dark thoughts and lash out at people.
Rooney has to regain the respect of his own supporters, team-mates and a manager who, I believe, would have off-loaded him in an ideal world.
They’ll be thinking he has disrespected the club, blackmailed it – and been handed a huge pay rise.
It is an unwritten rule that you never publicly criticise your team-mates and, by questioning United’s clout, that is what he has done.
If Rooney does not start scoring goals soon, people are not going to forgive or forget easily.
He may feel pleased with his pay deal but Rooney must know he faces the toughest challenge of his career.
Rooney may have a few more Footballer of the Year awards in him … but nobody should bank on it.