Michael Owen believes Wayne Rooney's omission from Manchester United's Champions League starting line-up on Tuesday night was a "real kick in the teeth" but remains hopeful his former team-mate can rescue his Old Trafford career.
Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to leave Rooney out of his starting line-up to face Real Madrid could have major consequences for the striker's United career. In the past, when Ferguson has left big name players out of high-profile matches, it has proved to be the signal they are surplus to requirements and were to be shipped out at the earliest available opportunity.
"For Rooney not to start is a real kick in the teeth and it's got to be a big worry for him," Owen told TalkSPORT. "It's the biggest game of the season and the manager has shuffled his pack and not included him."
He went on: "Wayne will take it one of two ways.
"He will either get his head down, try to improve and force his way back into the team, or he'll think, 'The manager has not picked me for the biggest game, he obviously doesn't fancy me', and it might not be the end of the story."
Rooney's wife Coleen took to Twitter prior to kick-off on Tuesday night to express her surprise at the 27-year-old's omission. However, that Tweet has now been taken down and Rooney has not offered any reaction to Wednesday night's disappointment, positive or negative.
Ferguson has said repeatedly this season that the striker needs to play matches to keep fit, and takes time to recover when he has a spell out of the side, the reason given for Rooney's omission on Wednesday night.
The United boss has also stressed the professionalism Robin van Persie has brought to Old Trafford this season since his arrival from Arsenal.
It would be easy therefore to draw a negative conclusion about Rooney, although Owen insists he never saw any reason for concern during his three years at United.
"When I was at Manchester United their relationship was very good, they talked, shared jokes and there were no problems whatsoever," said Owen. "I would be surprised if it was something of that nature [a falling-out], but the decision to leave him out isn't going to help if it is that."