Diego Maradona undoubtedly meant well when, sitting in the same restaurant in the early hours of Wednesday, he called over Wayne Rooney, unknotted his tie and offered it to the Manchester United player. In ordinary circumstances, it would be easy to imagine it being framed and going straight on Rooney's wall. Except these, of course, were not ordinary circumstances. That gift from Buenos Aires will always, one suspects, have bittersweet memories for Rooney bearing in mind the subdued conversation on the table he was sharing with Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville.
Rio Ferdinand would later inform his near-4 million Twitter following that he had been unable to get a minute's sleep, too wound up by the adrenaline, the lingering grievances and the sense, perhaps, that there may not be too many opportunities for a player of his age to reach another Champions League final.
Giggs had an engraved memento to mark the night of his 1,000th appearance but, knowing what we do of his competitive spirit, it is tempting to wonder whether it may find its way into the bottom of a drawer. Giggs, at 39, could be forgiven for having the occasional moment of insecurity himself, even if he had taken the game to Real Madrid like a man immune to the natural processes of age.
As for Sir Alex Ferguson, his assistant, Mike Phelan, probably used the wrong word when he explained the manager's absence from all post-match interviews on being too "distraught" to talk. Other colleagues reported it being an issue of fury – "angrier than I've ever seen him," to quote one long-standing employee – rather than the image Phelan had portrayed of a disconsolate manager with no appetite to share his misery. The non-appearance was because Ferguson, quite simply, did not trust himself to maintain a sense of control when television cameras were there to record the moment.
What can be said with certainty is that Cuneyt Cakir, a 36-year-old insurance agent from Istanbul, has gone straight into page one of Ferguson's little black book of refereeing demonology, just above David Elleray, Martin Atkinson and all the others. On a European scale, it used to be Herbert Fandel that occupied this position. "Have we got any mogadon?" Ferguson asked once after finding out the German was refereeing his team. Now it is the man whose past eight games in Turkey have brought 36 yellow cards and three reds and who left the Old Trafford pitch with Ferguson jabbing a finger in his direction from the touchline and spitting out vitriol.
Complaining to Uefa would be a futile exercise and, for their own dignity, it should be hoped that United do not attempt to prolong the argument. Their grievances have some foundation bearing in mind Nani, almost certainly, did not connect with Alvaro Arbeloa deliberately. Even so, being an accident did not remove the fact that one player's studs connected with an opponent's ribs. One ex-pro, while sympathising with Nani, put forward a cogent argument directly after the match in United's pressroom that the player should have known the potential risks and tried to shield the ball as it dropped rather than plucking it from the skies. That is easy to say, perhaps, with the benefit of hindsight but, however unpopular it is, Graham Poll was probably right when he pointed out that Cakir would be congratulated by Uefa's refereeing assessors.
The controversy was so raw it tends to spare Ferguson greater scrutiny about the way José Mourinho outdid him tactically thereafter, far more decisive and effective with his substitutions. Yet Mourinho did, of course, have the extra man when, until that point, there were no obvious flaws in United's structure and approach.
Their planning had been so meticulous they had even switched around the usual team announcements to try to get into Cristiano Ronaldo's head. Usually at Old Trafford it is the away lineup read out first. On this occasion the public announcer, Alan Keegan, was under instructions to start with the home team and finish with Madrid, changing the order of names as well to leave Ronaldo strategically until last. "Kill him with love," as Patrice Evra had said. Keegan ushered in the returning hero, "the magnificent No7", in a way more reminiscent of Michael Buffer setting up a world title fight at Madison Square Garden. The volume, the loudest Ferdinand said he had ever heard at a football match, cranked up a few more notches and when the game started, just a few seconds later, Ronaldo gave the impression that his mind was a little scrambled. "Mentally, it was not easy," Mourinho would later reflect. "I went back to Stamford Bridge after I left Chelsea; not easy. I played Porto; not easy. One day I will go back to the Bernabéu; not easy. So, for Cristiano, not easy."
Ronaldo being Ronaldo, he still delivered the telling blows over the two games whereas Rooney, once the superior footballer, laboured in the Bernabéu, was not considered good enough to start the second leg and is now 5-2 with the bookmakers to leave in the summer on the back of "a flood of bets". Ronaldo did not even have to be at his best to remind us that the difference between the two players these days feels more like a chasm. For Rooney, that is just a small part of it. However it is dressed up, it has been a fairly crushing experience that leaves him with a lot to contemplate.
His exclusion would once have brought outcry but now elicits a different kind of scrutiny. It is a form of regret, almost sadness, that for all his achievement he has not turned out to be the player English football had quite expected: the all-action hero who would terrorise players so devastatingly it would be barely conceivable Old Trafford could witness one of its top five European nights in the Ferguson era without him in the team. The player, one might say, Rooney used to be.
Ferguson had his logic prepared but a player of Rooney's selfless commitment and professional drive might flinch to hear United's manager considered Danny Welbeck as superior when it comes to tracking back opponents and, in this case, dropping on to Xabi Alonso to negate the most prolific supply line to Ronaldo. That surely is one of Rooney's great strengths even without the long, powerful stride of his younger colleague. As for their respective scoring threats, Welbeck is still refining his finishing. Rooney, despite reaching an awkward juncture in his professional life, is the more reliable marksman by some distance.
Too much can be read into Ferguson's curveball selections sometimes but, equally, just consider how desperate he was for Rooney to be bandaged up to face Bayern Munich in the 2010 quarter-final with frayed ankle ligaments. Ferguson gave the impression back then that a 40% Rooney was still the first player he wanted on his teamsheet. Something clearly has changed. What a brutal irony as well, going back to those days in October 2010 when Rooney wanted to leave Old Trafford, that he had publicly questioned the club's transfer market ambitions under the Glazer regime, and it is now the signing of Robin van Persie that means he is no longer a mandatory first-team player.
Van Persie's impact has been brilliant at times, though what has largely gone unnoticed is that he has been showing telltale signs of weariness recently and has only one goal in his past eight appearances.
Whatever the grievances about Cakir, there is another moment that will surely linger in Ferguson's thoughts as he tries to make sense of it all. It was in the 71st minute of the first leg in Madrid, at 1-1, when the ball fell perfectly into Van Persie's path and he could not get a clean connection. His shot bobbled past Diego López but Alonso hacked it off the goalline and, at this level, a striker cannot display that kind of generosity. Van Persie, unfortunately for United, has lost a little of the sheen at just the wrong time. Welbeck has two goals all season and Rooney will have jarring memories when he looks at that dark-blue souvenir that Maradona wanted him to take away.