Reputations are built on the highest stage and it should therefore be a fearful Wayne Rooney, below, who steps into Uefa's headquarters in Nyon on Thursday morning. The Champions League embarrassingly slipped from Manchester United's once assured grasp in Basel and the full three-match suspension from the European Championship may now follow for their England talisman. The continent is a potentially barren landscape for Rooney in 2012 and the torment is entirely self-inflicted.
The United striker's performance mirrored that of Sir Alex Ferguson's team in Switzerland, with plenty of endeavour but little end product, and the ignominy of a first entry into the Europa League awaits both. For a player of Rooney's ability yet miserable record in major international tournaments, confirmation that he must miss the entire group phase in Ukraine and Poland, if that is the verdict of Uefa's disciplinary panel on the banks of Lake Geneva, will be another devastating setback to his hopes of being recognised beyond English shores among the finest talents of his generation. As with United's exit from what appeared a straightforward group, it all seems unnecessary.
Ferguson may not care less about England's prospects at Euro 2012 – and privately the thought of Rooney having an enforced holiday must appeal at club level – but he must be aggrieved at the shadow one loss of self-control on international duty has cast upon United and a season of diminishing returns. The irony of the FA challenging a three-match ban for violent conduct from a player it suspended for two matches for swearing at a television camera last season, excluding him from the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Manchester City at Wembley, will not have been lost on the United manager either.
One red card against Montenegro did not expel United from the Champions League but it has marked a downturn in Rooney's season and poor finishing lay at the heart of their exit. There was greater responsibility on the forward regardless of the disciplinary appeal in Nyon, with Javier Hernández, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen injured plus Danny Welbeck feeling his way back from the hamstring strain suffered with England. Rooney showed no signs of being distracted here, only annoyance at his own occasional poor touch, the referee and the substitute Federico Macheda, but he lacked the composure and finishing of the player Ferguson had labelled Britain's answer to Pelé when the campaign opened in Benfica. Then he had arrived in Lisbon with 11 goals from eight matches. He is currently on three from 12 appearances and the failure to improve that ratio against Basel proved humiliating and costly.
Ferguson had expressed such supreme confidence in Rooney's ability to leave his Euro crisis outside St Jakob-Park and United's impressive away form in Europe to predict that Ashley Young's stoppage-time equaliser against Basel at Old Trafford would be the goal "that rescued us in this section". But this, it soon transpired, was not the performance the United manager could have imagined from a side bidding for a fourth Champions League final appearance in five seasons.
From David de Gea's costly decision to use his feet in an attempt to cut out Xherdan Shaqiri's cross from the left, which only set up Marco Streller for a ninth-minute opener, to the failure of Bjorn Kuipers, the referee, to punish Granit Xhaka for three bookable offences in the first half – the influential midfielder committed a two-footed challenge on Park Ji-sung, deliberately tripped Rooney on a United break and scooped the ball away with his hand from Nani before finally receiving a yellow card for a foul on the Portugal international – the small details were costing United even before Streller accidentally became entangled with Nemanja Vidic's knee and ended the Serb's night after 42 minutes.
Rooney was central to frustration but continued to search for an escape until the final whistle. The United lineup suited their leading man, who was alone in attack but well supported by Park, less so by Young, and received sufficient supply from Nani and Ryan Giggs to have eased the Premier League champions' passage into the knock-out phase.
The England international should have equalised on the half-hour when Nani's cross found him lurking unmarked at Yann Sommer's far post. Rooney appeared perfectly placed, the ball at an inviting pace and height, but a slight deflection off a Basel defender was sufficient to throw the striker off balance and he miscued badly before Park missed a routine follow-up. Another excellent opening fell Rooney's way from Giggs's disguised pass into the Basel area. Again the connection was not as true as a player of Rooney's calibre should produce and Sommer made a comfortable save. A third attempt, curled inches wide from a difficult angle following another astute pass from Giggs in the second half, typified United's night. They have a long and agonising period to stew over the repercussions.