Manchester United take on Everton at the weekend, in a game that will see two strikers play against their former clubs for the first time since their summer transfers.
Wayne Rooney returns to Old Trafford, the home of the club where he holds the all-time goal scoring record, while Romelu Lukaku will play against the side he scored 87 goals for in 166 appearances.
In Lukaku, United have a player who has his best years ahead of him, while Everton’s Prodigal Son doesn’t have long left of his career. What they both have in common though is that they were footballing prodigies. By the age of 23, Lukaku had scored 119 goals. For comparison, Michael Owen had 111 and Cristiano Ronaldo had 97 by the same age. Rooney wasn’t too far behind with 94.
Something else they share is that they have been in trouble with the police recently.
Lukaku has a court date next month after drawing the attention of the police following his partying in LA when celebrating his transfer to United.
Rooney’s run in with the law isn’t quite as glamorous though, after being charged for drink driving when taking home a woman he had pulled while his pregnant wife was on holiday.
The strikers aren’t the only players to line up against the club they used to play for though. United will have another former Toffee in their squad, with Marouane Fellaini likely to start following his impressive form so far this season. The injury to Paul Pogba only increases his chances.
While the big-haired Belgian has largely been a laughing stock during his time at United, he managed to break Everton’s hearts in the 2016 FA Cup semi-final. He scored the opener at Wembley and celebrated in front of the Everton supporters, pointing to the name on the back of his shirt.
"I couldn't be more pleased with him."
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 12, 2017
Fellaini is unlikely to receive a warm welcome from the supporters of his former club but Michael Keane, Everton’s defender who graduated from United’s academy, will have his name applauded when the line-ups are read out. There were rumours the lifelong United fan was set to return to Old Trafford this summer before he agreed a deal with Everton.
Still, all eyes will be on Lukaku and Rooney this weekend, with the strange refusal to score against former clubs rule in place. It is more understandable with Rooney probably, given that he used to captain United and holds the title of legend in some supporters’ eyes.
When Rooney scored for United at Goodison Park he used to kiss the badge.
Had Mourinho wanted the striker to stay, we may have seen a repeat of that this weekend, but deemed surplus to requirements, he’s made the move back to his boyhood club and is unlikely to be overzealous in any celebration if he does score.
Lukaku owes Everton very little but if he is to find the back of the net, following his streak of six goals in six games, you imagine he’ll keep his celebration restrained too.
Whatever happens on Sunday though, it is clear that United fans will be the happier of the two with their striker over the course of the season. Everton may have spent over £100 million this summer, but they failed to sign someone who could replace Lukaku’s goals.
Leon Osman, an Everton academy graduate like Rooney, has voiced his frustration over Everton’s inability to bring another goal-machine to the club. He said:
“When you take someone like Lukaku out of the team you are always going to struggle to replace that and Everton didn’t replace it at all.”
Rooney has scored twice in his opening eight games at Everton, including one that United fans could celebrate when putting his team 1-0 up against Manchester City at the Etihad a few weeks ago, but there’s no chance he’ll match Lukaku’s tally of 26 from last season.
There have only been two seasons in Rooney’s entire career when he bagged as many as Lukaku did in the last campaign. In fact, he hasn’t managed to score more than 20 goals since 2012. In terms of football years, Rooney is more like a player in his mid to late 30s, rather than early-30s, given how young he was when he started playing regular first team football. It’s no surprise he’s been in decline for a while.
Both strikers will be looking to prove their loyalty to their new club and win their new fans’ affections with a goal though. You would fancy Lukaku’s chances more than Rooney’s, but football is a funny game. As long as United get the win and keep their place at the top of the table though, the supporters won’t mind too much who is on the score sheet.