Paul Scholes nipped in and smashed home a goal for Manchester United against Wigan Athletic. Hours later Steven Fletcher did the same for Sunderland against Liverpool. One player was making his 700th appearance for his only club side and the other was starting his second game for a team that has just paid £12m for his services.
Two players linked only by the routine task of finishing from six yards out on one particular Saturday. Yet the appearance by the 37-year-old Scholes in a United shirt offers a lesson beyond the obvious one that class has a high resilience to the ravages of time. The Englishman has also survived a major fall-out with his manager to prosper at the highest level, to the obvious benefit of both.
The Sunderland forward, though, remains in an impasse with his national manager that has created an ever-increasing problem for Craig Levein. Twenty-four hours after his goal against Liverpool, Fletcher intimated on Twitter that he was willing to pull on a Scottish jersey. The short answer of 'yes' to a question from a follower was enough to create a media firestorm. It would be naive to believe that Fletcher was not aware that this would be an inevitable consequence of his three-letter statement.
The brief summation of the state of play, or non-play, in this continuing controversy is that Fletcher will play if picked but Levein will not pick him. However, the story holds a far greater import than the international career of one player. Levein is the story now. The Fletcher affair is being picked over as a motif for the manager's intransigence and his inability to accept criticism.
These are hardly unusual defects of even the greatest of managers but Levein's major failing in the tale of the missing striker is his inability to manage the situation. To recap, Fletcher was not happy about being left to sit idle as Scotland laboured to a defeat in Prague in 2010 without a recognised striker. He believed this showed a lack of faith in his ability. He made some criticisms and was left out of the squad for the matches against the Czech Republic and Spain. He declined an invitation to play against Northern Ireland, replying to a text from a Scottish Football Association official with a text of his own.
The Scholes v Sir Alex Ferguson bout goes back to 2001 when the midfielder refused to travel to London to play for United's reserves against Arsenal. Ten years later, Scholes admitted that he was lucky not to be sold and blessed to have found the manager's forgiveness. On Saturday, he showed his gratitude in the tangible form that has been his currency in the past decade and beyond. There are lessons for Fletcher and Levein in the Scholes story but the major educational value is surely in how Ferguson managed the situation.
First, both Scholes and Fletcher were far from blameless. Players are insecure beasts. There is always someone out to take their place, there is always a resistance to criticism, there is always an ego to stroke. The trick – as Kenny Rogers so concisely articulated in his treatise on football management – is to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em. Ferguson has proved a master in this art. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Roy Keane, David Beckham and Jaap Staam all left United after disagreements with the manager. None have come back to haunt Ferguson.
In contrast, Scholes was brought back on board quickly in 2001 after the obligatory ban, the mandatory apology and the universal acceptance that there was only one boss and he was not a ginger-haired playmaker.
Ferguson, too, was canny when Wayne Rooney made his outburst over what he saw as the club's lack of ambition. He also squeezed another year of brilliance out of Cristiano Ronaldo when the Portugese player declared he wanted to leave for Real Madrid.
There is a cool pragmatism about Ferguson's reactions but there is also a strong element of "street smarts". The Govan boy had looked down the road and did not like what he saw coming towards him. Scholes, the best English midfielder, on his way? Rooney off, possibly to City? Ronaldo gone before another trophy was won? Not on your nelly, as they say in the debating chambers of Govan hostelries. Ferguson managed the situations.
Levein, in contrast, has taken a hole, looked at it and hired a digger. The revelation that Fletcher had declined to play by sending a text invited the sort of media reaction that was certain to embarrass the player and distance him from Scotland.
The Scotland manager, too, came quickly to a stance where compromise would be seen as a sign of weakness. Levein had the commendable aim of showing his squad that unnecessary call-offs and fits of pique would not be tolerated. Presumably, he saw the Fletcher situation as a case where strong management was needed. His stance, too, found no dissent in the squad. Kenny Miller, the Scotland captain, showed his feelings with a tart "I think he is on his holidays" when asked about Fletcher before the recent double-header against Serbia and Macedonia.
The prevailing view in public among managers is that Levein had no choice but to decide not to select the forward. Paul Hartley, the manager of Alloa Athletic and a Scottish internationalist of recent vintage, said: "It's up to Steven to speak to the manager. Maybe it is up to Steven to contact Craig through a phone call not Twitter. Then it can be resolved."
He called for a "sit-down" between manager and player but sources close to Fletcher have suggested that he was keen for this eventuality but it has not occurred. It is further pointed out that Levein's public statement in May that Fletcher was persona non grata may make any such talks somewhat terse.
Privately, there is another view among managers. One said: "We do not score goals. Fletcher is the best goalscorer. Sometimes it is that simple and sometimes there has to be some fancy dancing with players. It's particularly true in the international game. Craig should have been cuter."
Another manager said that Levein should have kept the text private, let the matter rest but kept lines of communication open through a third party.
The problem has grown in direct relation to the poverty of results. It is true that if Scotland had been winning the Fletcher story would be played out as a sign of how Levein could take decisive action with no detriment to the team.
But Scotland are not winning. Fletcher now becomes the shorthand for a manager who has failed to keep a player on board who could have helped him and the nation. In Govan terms, Levein failed to see what was coming down the road and it has stuck the head on him. The situation is becoming unmanageable.
The only way out for Levein is to qualify for the World Cup. That, too, in the view of many is unmanageable. The handling and non-selection of Fletcher will not be reason for this failure but it may provide the emblem for it.