Ronnie Whelan: Fergie right to punish Rooney
IF Manchester United lose the title to their bitter rivals Manchester City by a point, Alex Ferguson would be well within his rights to blame it entirely on Wayne Rooney.
The story about Rooney's night out with Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans has been gathering steam and I don't care how innocent it was or even if it was teetotal, they clearly should not have been out at all and were breaking Ferguson's disciplinary code.
Each of the three players have good enough reasons to avoid any trouble and behave as they are expected to by their boss.
Jonny Evans is a young, up-and-coming centre-back, learning his trade but still far from the finished article. He needs to be working hard and keeping his nose clean at all times.
Darron Gibson has even more motivation to stay in Ferguson's good books. His position at Old Trafford is fragile in the extreme.
In fact, Ferguson has been over-indulgent where Gibson is concerned and given him every chance to deliver on the potential he showed as a teenager but hasn't displayed much of in the last year or two.
Rooney, above all, is the man with the least to gain from breaking a curfew, if that's what happened.
He's the main man at Manchester United and Ferguson's best player. With his huge salary comes responsibility and he cannot be seen to be on a night out with younger lads if he's supposed to be tucked up at home.
I know that most players will try to sneak out if they can but the Christmas period is not really one of those times.
It's just too busy in the holiday period and all professional footballers accept the fact that their work means that they cannot have a normal Christmas like everyone else.
It's a basic of the trade and it seems to me that Ferguson considers this a very serious breach of his code; so serious that he dropped his best player.
To those who have already asked how big a call that could turn out to be at the end of the season if it's still close at the top, I would say straight away that the responsibility for that decision is Rooney's.
Ferguson has dealt with ill-discipline before and in a very harsh way indeed. Big names like David Beckham and Jaap Stam were shown the door and even Roy Keane felt Ferguson's cold-shoulder.
I'm not sure Ferguson is in a position to wield too big a stick this time, however. His resources have never been stretched so thin and we saw what happened when he took Rooney out of the action against Blackburn.
It is ironic that Rooney's criticism of Manchester United when he was being courted by City now looks very accurate indeed.
At the time, he suggested that Manchester United were not investing in enough talent to compete with Barcelona and even Manchester City.
Since then, Ferguson shipped in Ashley Young and Phil Jones, two excellent young players, but nowhere near enough to plug the gaps which are now showing.
These are troubling times for Manchester United fans although they did hear news they were waiting for over the weekend -- when Ferguson confirmed that he would be signing up for another three years, health permitting.
That has to be a big positive for everyone around Old Trafford but it won't prevent fans from feeling jittery about Rooney and the team's chances of edging out City.