There are not too many footballers these days, in an era when they are trained to see nothing and say even less, who would emerge from an away win in the bear pit of San Siro to complain that some team‑mates were "not doing their jobs". A few years ago it would have been regarded as impudence but Wayne Rooney has a new seniority in Manchester United's dressing room these days and the man Corriere dello Sport acclaimed today as "the English phenomenon" could not be accused of anything other than daring to call it how it was.
His team-mates, one suspects, will not mind when Rooney is winning games for them, just as they used to put up with Roy Keane's black moods because they knew what he brought to the team and that, more often than not, his assessment of their shortcomings was justified. Not that Rooney's complaints were delivered with the whiplash of Keane's tongue, but there were times in last night's 3‑2 defeat of Milan in the Champions League when his temper glands were pricked sufficiently for a switch to flick in his head, and not just because of Nani's ability to exasperate on the right wing.
The most volcanic explosion followed an over-hit pass from Darren Fletcher and, when it comes to players not doing their jobs, there were four or five others, including the newly appointed captain of the England national team, who might have felt compelled to raise an apologetic arm during a first half that had Sir Alex Ferguson blowing out his cheeks and talking of "oh God, a catalogue of mistakes".
There is a danger to be over-critical when, ultimately, United have ensured they will go into the return leg on 10 March in a position of considerable strength and, in the process, have established a Champions League record of 16 away games unbeaten. It is a run that stretches back nearly three years and takes in Roma (twice), Barcelona, Arsenal and Internazionale, as well as foreign excursions against the champions of France, Germany and Portugal. United have scored 25 in that time and conceded only seven and it is peculiar their intrepid travels have not attracted more acclaim.
They also have a striker who is fast becoming the irresistible choice as the player of the year and who now has 25 goals for the season, having finally curtailed his natural instinct to roam around the pitch looking for the ball. "I'm getting inside the box a lot more, and that's helping me score goals," Rooney explained. "I'm anticipating balls into the box. That's the main thing I've been working on."