Wayne Rooney is going home. Or rather, Wayne Rooney is going back to a club he ruthlessly cast aside in favour of a much bigger rival in order to make more cash and win more trophies. Still, once a blue always a blue, eh?
Rooney can’t be blamed for having tried to further his career or increase his bank balance but, despite all the pyjama talk, there’s little doubt that him having done so casts a shadow over romantic ideas of “loyalty” and “homecomings”.
He is returning to a club he previously outgrew mainly because he has now shrunk back down to the perfect size to fit it.
There’s no real denying that an underlying affection for Everton would have played a part in his choice of club this summer, but the fact remains that Manchester United have wanted rid of him for quite some time. And there were few other suitors, which tells a story in itself. Even at the age of 31, a footballer of Rooney’s reputation ought to have at least a couple of top clubs in the mix for his signature.
But that does not appear to have been the case. No serious bids were made in the time that it took rumours of the transfer to propagate. No-one swooped in from left-field to gazump the Toffees’ deal with United; quite simply, they were the only ones genuinely interested.
And so Wazza has made the short trip back to Merseyside to play for what is an ambitious and upwardly mobile, but ultimately mid-ranking, Premier League side. It could all work out beautifully, and we may be about to witness the renaissance of one of England’s greatest ever forwards as part of a team with significant potential. But let’s not pretend this is much more than a mutually beneficial marriage of convenience.
So just how did Rooney end up in such a situation?
Some would argue he is the finest striker his country has ever produced, and he is the all-time top scorer for a club that many would describe as the biggest in the world. Yet his form over the past three or four seasons has been little more than mediocre; a player of lesser repute churning out a similar level of performance would surely have been turfed out of Old Trafford a long time ago.
By the time of his exit, many United fans had begun to consider their captain a drain on the club’s (admittedly vast) resources. Once a prized asset, Rooney had gradually become an expensive luxury, especially in the aftermath of the bumper contract signed under David Moyes. The goals dried up, with Rooney scoring just 25 times in the league over the past three seasons, a far cry from the halcyon days when you could have reasonably expected him to reach that total in a single campaign.
And yet it’s not just a lack of goals that has marked Rooney’s decline.
For much of the second half of his United career, a visible malaise has settled over him. Amid constant comment on his physical “robustness”, a slower and more lethargic version of the once-fearsome Croxteth kid has emerged. This is Rooney 2.0, a sluggish, peripheral figure who trundles around the pitch with all the pace and agility of a laundry basket.
Perhaps injuries can account for such a fall-off. Perhaps it’s diet. Perhaps it’s a dwindling desire to submit to the Spartan regime of a modern footballer. Or perhaps it’s simply just that Rooney’s peak arrived earlier than it does for the “normal” player. Aside from almost superhuman outliers such as Ronaldo or Messi, the vast majority of elite players generally remain at the top of their game for a maximum of five or six seasons.
A case in point is Rooney’s former strike partner Robin van Persie, who, despite his obvious class, really only spent three or four years at the peak of his powers. The difference between the two is that van Persie’s trajectory followed a more logical path, with his career reaching its zenith during his late 20s after a long, painful development stage at Arsenal.
By contrast, Rooney had a far longer period as one of the Premier League’s finest, yet by the time his thirties appeared on the horizon had already shot his bolt. It may yet prove premature to depict him as a spent force – you write off a player of this quality at your own peril – but it’s hard to avoid the impression of Rooney as yesterday’s man. Still, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he managed to remain a world-class player for just as long as most others are capable of doing so.
His arrival at Goodison Park is all the more symbolic given the colossus he has been signed, in theory, to replace. Romelu Lukaku is a man at the opposite end of the career path to Rooney, a precocious talent who you suspect is only beginning to find his true form. He will lead the line for United in 2017/18, and there’s little doubt that the majority of the club’s fans will see him as a significant upgrade on their departing skipper.
Still, if you think Rooney is capable of outscoring the Belgian this coming season, you could do worse than the 11/4 we’re offering on such an event.
Whatever happens, it’s clear that Everton have re-signed a legend, but one who is no longer a star. The prodigal son has returned a diminished figure, albeit one more than capable of winning over those who wear the same colours as he.