The news of Wayne Rooney’s departure, for the 2nd time from the club will be met with none of the anger, sadness or relevance it did some 14 years ago when he first left. A move to DC United is both an enormous step down for England’s most decorated forward but also a unique and worthwhile opportunity to pursue for him and his family. For Evertonian’s it is likely to be met with a begrudging relief that we have shifted a large wage off the budget but also an underlying sense of what could have been. From the moment Rooney left, most Evertonians commented he would come back one day, when he was old and past it and perform a role akin to that of Paul Gascoigne in his later spell with Everton. While the predictions turned out to be eerily true for most Evertonians experiencing the return of the prodigal has not been met with quite the cynicism that may have been guessed at 10 years ago.
The relative instability of Manchester United leading to a more ruthless culture in parallel to Everton acquiring a wealthy benefactor meant that it was Rooney rather than Everton that were left trying to convince the other of the viability and sense of the move. We are told Rooney had a face to face meeting with Koeman where he outlined his hunger for the task and had shifted significant weight prior to his return. His retirement from international football underlined this new found commitment and this was reinforced when scoring in his opening 2 games of the season. It hinted at a potentially exciting final chapter of the Rooney story, a chapter most of the Everton supporters were eagerly anticipating.
However for Rooney and for Everton, the away draw at would be champions Manchester City was about as good as it got. That was very much the high water mark of a disastrous season. For Rooney his personnel life would quickly unravel with stories emerging of him driving round an unknown woman in a state of intoxication. For manager Koeman, who had prided himself on strict discipline on and off the field it would be an act of betrayal that would have greatly disappointed him, that it came from a senior professional meant to be setting the best habits for the young players around him underlined this point. Everton too would unravel with a string of heavy defeats and spiral towards the bottom 3 sacking manager Ronald Koeman and eventually turning to manager Sam Allardyce.
I had brazenly stated that I felt Rooney would be an astute buy for Everton. That his winning mentality within the dressing room would greatly aid young players and that he still had a lot to offer. When Koeman and then Allardyce turned away from younger players his value in this regard greatly sank. Everton also went backwards dramatically last season, from a team on the brink of the top 5/6 teams to one that was enmeshed in a relegation battle. Again the fine margins that Rooney was brought in to deliver became largely irrelevant as Everton were increasingly in need of resilience and discipline to get to the 40 point total. It is not a great stretch to see, that in a side with a lack of pace, movement and confidence in front of him and one which required legs and energy without the ball Rooney would increasingly look a passenger in the side as the season wore on.
While circumstance worked against Rooney and he can claim to be unfortunate, some blame will have to go on Wayne himself. We have briefly touched upon the incident early in the season where he was out late into the evening. Only he will know how this affected his general focus but it certainly gave the impression of a player who was not solely focused on the job at hand. As the season wore on he would often be much too casual in possession and at times a bit of a defensive liability when playing in a deeper role. Against both Manchester City and Liverpool at home, for differing reasons he was badly exposed in the middle of midfield. Against both he was pulled off early and in both games Everton began to get a foothold in the game when a younger more energetic replacement was selected.
In the minds of large swathes of our supporters it was these two games that were held up as key exemplars as to why Rooney was beyond being able to make a positive contribution or “past it” to coin a phrase. I always felt such an analysis was unduly harsh, I had never expected Rooney to dominate the game against the top teams in the league and nor did I think they would be games we would see the best from him. For reasons outlines above, a side on the back foot, where defensive stability would be required over creativity would not utilize his skill set to anything like full capability. However with that in mind, no excuse can be made for performances that came in the following 5 games, where Rooney underwhelmed and was largely peripheral on the game. While I can forgive Rooney not being involved against the top 5-6 sides in the league, the trade off would be that he would use his experience and technical skill to control games against poorer sides. For the wages being paid to him this seemed a reasonable trade off but not a side of the bargain Rooney himself was able to keep by the seasons end.
As always there will be extenuating circumstances and I don’t believe Sam Allardyce’s management of him was particularly smart. At the stage of his career where he needed to be rested he would be placed into games where he was expected to chase shadows. He looked very jaded by the end of the season and in truth had probably played too many games. To put a defence of Alardyce, Rooney himself is not an easy man to manage and would visibly show his displeasure at (rightly) being substituted in key games. For a manager who’s standing was on shaky ground with the fanbase taking a decision to play Rooney intermittently would have been an enormous gamble and one which I don’t think Allardyce could take. I suspect it is a major factor in why Marco Silva would be quite happy to see Rooney leave the club. Rightly or wrongly he has the potential to be an enormous distraction, a problem even, for a new manager.
While the concern for Silva may well be from a footballing perspective, the decisive action taken by Brands in actively looking to move Rooney on hints at a clear and distinctive model to recruitment. In any job when you begin you look for “quick wins” notably opportunity to make a easy initial positive impact. When he saw Rooney as one of the highest earners and matched that to a player who is now unable to play most weeks and who’s performance levels are only likely to decline must have further strengthened the belief that Rooney needs to be moved on, irrespective of past achievements and standing he holds within the club. It is a ruthless and efficient act that the club has been short of for 20 years and while it’s important not to generalize too much from it should give Evertonian’s some reasons for optimism.
In spite of all of this it is important to not allow the Rooney return to be labeled as merely an inglorious failure. The team failed to win a game without him last season and he finished the season as our top goalscorer. Under a different manager, using a different system you could even have seen a role developing for Rooney, but under a manager who demands high levels of pressing and a more counter attacking game it’s hard to see any of the positions being filled by Rooney.
The contribution Rooney made to the club on his return cannot be measured in simple statistics though. Winning goals against Stoke and Newcastle provided valuable wins in the first half of the season. An equalizing goal at Anfield provided a moment of bittersweet comedy for Evertonians as a side managed by Sam Allardyce intent to not cross the half way line somehow managed to outfox the alleged greatest manager in the world. The hatrick against West Ham, in what was a crucial game at the bottom of the table underpinned the quality of the player, with arguably one of the greatest goals the premier league has seen for his 3rd (scoring from well within his own half). All of these goals did not just give Everton crucial points in the first half of the season but also provided memorable moments for Rooney and the Everton supporters to look back on.
When viewed across a career it’s unlikely any other than the West Ham hatrick goal would make it onto a top 10 list, but if we are truthfully honest the return of Rooney could only ever really be a case of “after the lords mayors show”. On leaving in 2004 he would break just about every record for England’s most decorated club and ultimately overtake every goalscorer England have ever had at national level. He would go on to win just about every trophy there was to win, some several times over and captain his team to many of these successes.
On top of that those that witnessed Rooney playing for Everton the first time know that in spite of all of the records Rooney underachieved through his career. He is often compared to Giggs, Owen and Best as the most talented gifted teenagers of the last 50 years, yet all of the above were 12-18 months older than Rooney when breaking through which remains a substantial gap at such a tender age. It is doubtful if any of us will live to see a more rounded and complete footballer at age 16, a footballer who could pass, strike the ball with both feet, tackle, dribble, shoot and have display such awareness of time and space as the young Rooney did.
He joined Manchester United as the senior partner in the Ronaldo/Rooney combination (watch back the 2005 1-0 victory and see which player is the central figure for them, and which is the inconsistent winger again despite being 2 years older) and arguably had more to his game than Lionel Messi who was breaking through at Barcelona. While there is a strong case that Rooney is Englands greatest ever, there should be no debate required, he should have a record that reads like Messi’s or Ronaldo’s. That was the talent of player Everton had produced up to 18 and while Manchester United moulded and matured a very fine footballer I will always maintain he never quite reached his true potential. While a lot of this lays at the doorstep of Fergusan and United who would use his versatility to help others develop (notably Ronaldo) Rooney would also have to accept he at times lacked professionalism at key moments off the field, perhaps not living life as professionally as his two contemporaries.
The return was never likely to invoke the same magic as the first spell. Rooney showed all the signs of a lad who had spent 15 years at the top. However the return formally allowed a painful divorce to become an amicable friendship (rather than the passionate love affair we had experience the first time). It allowed for Wayne Rooney to wear his beloved Everton shirt again, for his family and children to see their dad play for Everton and score a hatrick for his boyhood team. For supporters who are under 18, who have never likely seen Wayne Rooney in an Everton shirt, they will have that memory now.
It is impossible to say whether the above memories and the goals he scored would be worth the initial outlay though I am firmly in the camp that you cannot put a price on the above. Unlike Dixie Dean, Neville Southall, Peter Reid, Alan Ball or Howard Kendall who’s stories would be triumphs with moments of sadness the Wayne Rooney/Everton story is a tragedy. Life so often is about timing and for Rooney the timing was badly out with Everton. He was unfortunately to be born into an Everton team struggling both financially and on the field which offered him very little option to win the trophies he would by moving away. Had he been born into almost any other decade of the clubs history it would be hard not to have seen him remaining for some years and had he have done I have little doubt we’d be talking about a player who would make it into an all time Everton 11 (alongside Lawton and Dean). However each man makes his own history, but not in conditions of his own choosing.
The move to the MLS will suit all parties. It is a wonderful country to bring children up in and a great opportunity to be part of an exciting project at DC United. The slower pace of the league will help Rooney and I also think deep down knowing he didn’t become a burden and have the fans turn on him will be a major relief. For Everton it is a major saving on wages that can hopefully be spent more fruitfully in other areas of the pitch. For both parties and their supporters the move and the last 12 months have provided an emotional closure which will allow Wayne Rooney and his family to freely return to Everton. Until then, I wish him every success on his new venture in America.