The club, David Moyes and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward included, got at least one thing right in the summer. The repeated questions about Rooney's future were moot, Moyes insisted, because the England striker was under contract for another two years.
If United wanted to keep him, they would keep him—and they did. It was a small victory over player power. But that was five months ago, and a lot has changed.
Rooney, when he's been fit, has been one of the few United players to perform well this season. United, on the other hand, have struggled under Moyes and face the prospect of missing out on a place in next season's Champions League.
Rooney's stock has risen while the club's has fallen—literally, if trading on the New York Stock Exchange is anything to go by.
The club might have had the power in the summer, but with every defeat, it's shifting more towards Rooney. It's getting to the point where he can ask for anything he wants when the time comes to discuss an extension to his contract.
The climate at United is starting to mirror the one that provided the backdrop to Rooney's last contract negotiations. In the summer of 2010, stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez had left, and United had relinquished the Premier League title to Chelsea.
In the absence of Ronaldo and Tevez in 2009-2010, Rooney became United's talisman, scoring 26 league goals and 34 in all competitions, his highest tally since turning professional.
After indicating to Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill that he wanted to leave, United were forced to offer a bumper new deal to keep hold of him. But it was a small price to pay for keeping their one genuine world-class player.
With 18 months left on his contract, now is the time when United and Rooney's camp will start to talk. United don't want a situation where Rooney has entered the final year of his contract, able to sign a pre-contract agreement with a foreign club this time next year or go anywhere for nothing in the summer of 2015.
But when United's deal-makers get round the table, they will find that the power now lies with Rooney. United might be showing signs of decline on the pitch, and it would send the wrong message if they were to lose one of their key men, especially on a free transfer.
United will have to pay to keep a player of Rooney's talent, just as they did in 2010. But they might find the price has gone up without Champions League football or a genuine chance to win silverware to offer as bait.