Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping Wayne Rooney will return from his ankle injury a different player now that his Manchester United future has been resolved. Ferguson estimates it will be another three weeks at least before Rooney is fit to return, a timescale that would rule him out of next Wednesday's Manchester derby at Eastlands, plus England's friendly with France on 17 November.
Rooney's history suggests he will be pushing those boundaries to the limit in his desperation to play, after making just one substitute appearance in seven matches, including last night's Champions League encounter with Bursaspor in Turkey. Yet it cannot be entirely overlooked that the 25-year-old has hardly been in the best of form.
Given the performances of Dimitar Berbatov and Mexican new-boy Javier Hernandez, there is even an argument Rooney may have to be patient and wait for his opportunity to shine.
However, Ferguson feels his star striker may come back a new man, with the pressure of contract talks now over and a lucrative five-year deal in his back pocket.
"I think that this has been preying on his mind," Ferguson said. "I don't know the reason for his loss of form because it started in the World Cup [during the summer]. Whether some clubs have been filling his head in that period to affect him, we don't know. I have not asked him that.
"The important thing is for us to put it behind us and move on. But certainly something has been troubling him."
Rooney has not scored a goal for United in open play since March, his only strike this term coming from the penalty spot against West Ham United at the end of August.
It is a quite remarkable change in fortunes for a player who was lighting up the world stage 12 months ago, already well on his way to an impressive 34-goal haul before he suffered an ankle injury in the Champions League against Bayern Munich, after which he has not been the same player.
Yet the United supporters stuck loyally by their man, which is why his comments about the club's prospects for the future amid that contract furore were so startling.
The reaction was quick, with supporters besieging phone-ins and message boards expressing their distaste for the player's stance. And Ferguson believes it played a major role in Rooney's swift U-turn.
"Wayne obviously had some advice from people, but he has also realised the magnitude of Manchester United," the manager said. "I think that [the supporters' reaction] was definitely a part of it.
"He won't have enjoyed that. You know, nobody enjoys that sort of attention. Especially after the supporters have idolised him from the minute he's come here and done nothing but support him through thick and thin. He would have been taken aback by that. There's no doubt about that."
Ferguson defended fellow managers Tony Pulis of Stoke and Wolverhampton's Mick McCarthy against the charge that their teams are too aggressive.
Fulham captain Danny Murphy made the claim last month, causing a storm of protest from the men concerned, which also included Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce.
As someone whose own United team have successfully overcome Stoke and Wolves – who visit Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday – over the past 10 days, Ferguson is uniquely placed to assess the two sides and the Scot does not feel Pulis and McCarthy are guilty of any crime beyond wanting the best for their teams.
"It is an insult to the managers of the teams, because you couldn't get two more honest guys than Tony Pulis and Mick McCarthy," he said. "Their job is to get their players committed and motivated. There is nothing wrong with that. I know more about Tony Pulis' team because they have been in the league longer. They have always been honest.
"Mick was an aggressive player himself and his teams play in a similar way but you don't get punished for that. You can't say they are any different from any team that's come out of the Championship to survive in the Premier League.
"Sometimes it takes years to get to the next level of play and maintain that higher standard."
Known for his own aggressive style during his playing days in Scotland, Ferguson does not believe current standards come close to comparing with what he was used to.
"The players are babies now," he said. "In my day, you had to hit someone with a hatchet before a referee booked you. It's a different game now."Reuse content