Adnan Januzaj sat on the bench at The Hawthorns for Sir Alex Ferguson's last match as manager of Manchester United. He didn't make the pitch. He didn't have to. His presence connected the future to the past in a selection of symbolic significance. The modern history of United, the tradition built by Sir Matt Busby out of the post-war wreckage of a bombed Old Trafford, had youth at its core.
Januzaj, an 18-year-old Belgian who would have made Busby's heart leap, demonstrated during United's pre-season lick around the Far East and Australia feet quick enough to fast-track him to the heart of the next generation. If David Moyes is minded to connect quickly with the institution he was invited to lead, to commune with the vast priesthood committed to the cause, Januzaj might just be the means to that end.
The summer has been a negative cat-and-mouse exchange between Carrington and Barcelona, trying to bring to the United midfield a player of imagination and authority to plug the chasm left by the retirement of Paul Scholes. Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas proved impossible to snare. Luka Modric has emerged as this week's preferred candidate. While there is a powerful case to be made for an identikit solution to the creative deficit, and Modric would be a heck of a buy, it is equally important that players of the calibre of Januzaj are promoted come what may.
Moyes had clearly been briefed. The irretrievable breakdown of relations with Wayne Rooney left a pre-season void that looked an awful lot more threatening a month ago than it does now. The kid has a Pythagorean awareness of angles and dimension and a left foot that blends art with precision. With each game he plays, Januzaj lightens by increments Moyes' load by removing the urgency to resolve the Rooney conflict in a way that might be detrimental to United. A motivated and committed Rooney would be the first name on Moyes' team sheet for the demanding sequence of opening fixtures. But that player left Manchester many moons ago, though you would not believe it given the testimony of expert witnesses in the debate.
Robbie Savage, good enough in his youth to earn an apprenticeship at Old Trafford, advances the view that the capture of Rooney would guarantee the championship for Chelsea. Gary Neville, a player of greater authority than Savage, believes United cannot afford to let Rooney go. Since they cannot be basing their claims on the player Ferguson no longer considered first choice, they must believe in reincarnation. There persists the idea that in the appropriate setting, suitably loved by the right manager, the best of Rooney will be returned to himself. Who says romance is dead?
What if the conditions that led to his decline at Old Trafford are not linked to the poisonous atmosphere that enveloped his relationship with Ferguson but are inherent and therefore not going away? It might be that Rooney has peaked, and that Ferguson, no bad judge, recognised it. Time for United to move on. The future is right under the manager's nose.
The fans have already seen enough. Messageboards throb with appreciation. The big incoming transfer is a ticket-seller at any club, but no more than the emergence of a youngster believed to be "the one".
In February 1945, when Busby assumed control of a penniless club that had not won the title for more than 30 years, he placed youth development at the heart of the project. Busby's policy made United inaugural winners of the FA Youth Cup in 1953, a trophy they held for the first five years of the competition. The core of that team took United to back-to-back titles in 1956 and 1957. Legends grew around the names of Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Bobby Charlton et al, players woven through tragedy into the fabric of the club.
A decade later George Best embellished the legend further on an unforgettable night at Wembley. In winning the European Cup Busby had realised a dream. Manchester United became what Barcelona would have themselves now, a concept as much as a club. This is the territory inherited by Moyes. Of course experience is vital, and yes there will be transfers in, maybe as early as this week before the season kicks off at Swansea. Busby broke the transfer record to bring Denis Law from Torino to Manchester in 1962. But what a statement Moyes would make by selecting Januzaj in his first Premier League XI.
Ironically, Law did not feature against Benfica in 1968. Parts two and three of the Holy Trinity, Charlton and Best, did and scored. The other goal that night was poached by a teenager celebrating his 19th birthday. Brian Kidd was old enough because he was good enough. The same is true of Januzaj, who turns 19 on 5 February, a date close enough to the Munich anniversary to be spooky. Forget Rooney. The future is left-footed and wears the No 44 shirt.