Haven't we been here before? Wayne Rooney gets close to entering the final two seasons of his contract with Manchester United. Stories begin to appear linking him to a lucrative move abroad. He gets dropped for a crucial game. More stories, duly fed to the press from Old Trafford's environs, start doing the rounds, reflecting on Rooney's supposed declining productivity. Sir Alex breaks his silence to say the player is going nowhere.
The next step? A few more months of back and forth before Rooney issues some kind of statement bemoaning Manchester United's lack of ambition.
Except in this case, we may have seen a pre-emptive strike. Yesterday, near-identical tales appeared across the English media suggesting that Nike were meeting with Manchester United and that, among other things, they were plotting some sort of raid on Real Madrid which would see Cristiano Ronaldo return to his former club. (And why not? By implication Jose Mourinho wouldn't be far behind, just as soon as Sir Alex says the word.)
There's subtlety and then there's an armoured Hummer driving through a china shop. This is all closer to the latter.
Rooney's contract expires in 2015 which means the next few months is the logical time for his agents and United to decide his future. He's 27, so if you're going to sell, this coming summer is the time to do so. Equally, if you're going to extend his deal, you want to wrap it up soon-ish, because once you get into the final two years leverage shifts from club to player.
He's already one of the highest-paid players in the Premier League and he's happy at Old Trafford, despite the occasional grumbles from Sir Alex. This makes it harder for his agents to get him a pay rise, but it's their job to do so. Who could better his annual package of close to £12 million? And who would want to even consider it?
Realistically only two clubs: Manchester City and Paris Saint- Germain. City because it would be a great way to rub Sir Alex's nose in it once again and PSG because, well, right now they have more money than sense and given how much they pay Zlatan Ibrahimovic, just about anything seems plausible.
The trouble with linking Rooney to City is that it's too close to home and far too easy for a loose cannon like Roberto Mancini to come out and say "Rooney? No, we don't want him." Better to make PSG the subjects of the plant since, hey, who's going to bother checking?
The truth is that it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Rooney isn't exactly top of PSG's shopping list right now. They already have an expensive array of forward talent – Ibrahimovic, Kevin Gameiro, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura, Jeremy Menez, Javier Pastore – and, besides, Leonardo, the French club's director of football, has told anyone who will listen that Rooney is not in their plans.
So what we're seeing here is, frankly, hugely transparent. Rooney wants a new deal and his people are going about getting him one in a rather clunky way. Maybe it's designed to trick the Glazers into loosening the purse strings. Suffice to say, Sir Alex isn't fooled. And neither should you be.
OK, so it's Barcelona's worst four-game stretch since before the Pep Guardiola Era. Or since before Barack Obama became leader of the free world, however you like to mark time. And a resurgent Milan will stroll into the Camp Nou, on Tuesday 2-0 up from the first leg of the clubs' last-16 tie.
Time to panic? Not quite, but maybe time to recognise the value of a game-day manager. One who can make adjustments as the play unfolds. It's true, Barca can go on auto-pilot against most sides, and if Lionel Messi shows up to play, then they can do it against anyone.
But against a well-organised opponent with some quality, unless Messi is in history-making mood, it helps to have someone who can read the game. And that someone is not Jordi Roura, who has zero managerial experience, apart from three months at fourth-tier L'Hospitalet, six years ago, where he was duly sacked. Roura has spent the last few years scouting and editing video. No doubt he's very good at that but, as we're discovering, he's not a matchday boss.
The team misses Tito Vilanova, who is in New York undergoing treatment for cancer. He watches videos of training sessions and, supposedly, communicates via phone during games with the Barca bench, but it's clearly not the same as being there.
Here's a thought. There is a guy who is unemployed, who is Barca through-and-through, who is Vilanova's best friend and who would give the team an instant psychological (and tactical) lift were he to materialise pitchside on Tuesday night. What if, before he joins Bayern Munich in the summer, Guardiola was to make a reappearance at the Camp Nou?
All aboard the 'Arry Bandwagon. Two straight wins for QPR – at Southampton last week, at Loftus Road yesterday against free-falling Sunderland – and all of a sudden the great escape seems plausible.
Cockney Forrest Gump-esque media creation to some, old-school genius to others, Redknapp divides opinion like few men in football. Still, it's hard to argue with numbers. When he took over, the team had five points from 14 games. In his 15 matches in charge, they have gained 18 points. Hardly an earth- shattering clip, but one which, projected over a full season, would be enough to avoid relegation.
Sure, he has an expensively-assembled squad, but it's also an ill-assorted one. Loic Remy isn't Thierry Henry: his record with Marseille was one goal in 14 league games. Andros Townsend couldn't get off the bench at Tottenham. Christopher Samba arrived looking as if he hadn't played football in months ... which he hadn't.
We may never know what really happened in Dubai, but perhaps it doesn't matter. Increasingly, it appears as if Redknapp exists in some parallel fourth dimension where conventional wisdom doesn't apply. Don't be surprised if he keeps QPR up and, after a few lacklustre England results, the back pages start calling for him to replace Roy Hodgson. Again.
Contextual targeting label: