football

The Return Of Rooney

September 15, 2017

- Grant Whittington

It’s like he’s never been away. Wayne Rooney’s return to Everton has been nothing short of spectacular with two goals in their opening three Premier League games, including a fairytale winner against Stoke in his Goodison Park homecoming.

Ronald Koeman’s men backed up these three hard-fought points up with a gutsy point at the Etihad and progression in the Europa League at the expense of Hajduk Split. However, their exertions in Manchester and Croatia caught up with them last Sunday as defending champions Chelsea outclassed the Toffees, cruising to a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.

Despite this defeat, there has been a wave of optimism sweeping around the blue half of Merseyside with a flurry of transfer activity and big-money signings, although it has been Rooney’s second coming that has stolen the limelight.

Aside from his man-of-the-match display against the Potters, ‘Wazza’ continues to add to his top-flight legacy – his poacher’s strike against Pep Guardiola’s side saw the former Manchester United star join an extremely exclusive club as he became only the second player after Alan Shearer to reach the 200 Premier League goals landmark.

A man of selfless reinvention, the 32-year-old will understand that time does not stand still for history-makers and title-winners – Rooney lifted the Premier League trophy five times during his trophy-laden stint at Old Trafford, but even he will know that the beautiful game is far from the maudlin romance that his career ultimately deserves.

He should be applauded for staying in one of Europe’s toughest leagues when others would have found the temptation of the riches and superstardom afforded by the Chinese Super League impossible to resist.

Following his decision to retire from international duty for good, it is inevitable we will see less and less of Rooney, but this appears to be a sensible decision given the stage he is at in his career and his desire to play at this level for as long as is feasible. His stretch at the summit of the Premier League may be over, but bringing silverware to Goodison Park would mean as much to Rooney as any of his past conquests.

Ironically, it was Rooney’s former employers who were on the receiving end of Everton’s last major trophy triumph – their memorable 1-0 victory at Wembley in the 1995 FA Cup final thanks to a goal from Paul Rideout.

Rooney’s past experiences and successes could prove to be as invaluable as they are immeasurable to his manager. Koeman’s relentless pursuit to transform Everton into a winning club again will depend on how he rotates his squad and keeps his squad match fit.

Along with their hunt for domestic success, the Toffees also have a Europe League campaign to contend with, so managing Rooney’s form and fitness could prove to be pivotal in how their season pans out. Rooney has appeared in three Champions League finals (winning one and losing two) and that’s not even including his fleeting cameo late on in this year’s Europe League final. His European experience is unparalleled in the Everton ranks – a squad full of intrigue and potential, but without the glitter and glory that the Croxteth-born striker has been accustomed to.

Koeman has made good on his promise to utilise the offensive threat and goalscoring knack of Rooney by deploying him in an attacking midfield role – a far cry to the end of his United tenure where his talents were wasted in a passive midfield role. Playing Rooney further up the pitch has reaped instant rewards for his new club because of his eye for goal. It should be virtually impossible to overlook these predatory instincts that have elevated him to Manchester United and England greatness, standing alone on the shoulders of giants as all-time leading marksman for club and country.

So what can Rooney achieve in the twilight of his career? Prior to his international recoil, he had already fired himself back into the England’s squad ahead of next summer’s World Cup and who’s to say the added incentive of becoming the first Englishman to play in four World Cup tournaments won’t spark a u-turn?

Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record looks to be a stretch to far, particularly with the natural toil that 463 top-flight games and his staggering work rate will have had on his body. This dispersal in a number of positions, particularly during his final few seasons at Old Trafford has consequently seen Rooney’s influence at the business end of the pitch compromised. In comparison, the Newcastle United icon netted his 260 goals in just 441 games and occupied the number nine berth throughout his career.

It is no coincidence that regular game time at Goodison Park has resulted in Rooney becoming a man reborn. This is an individual clearly enjoying his football and the freedom to express his football akin to when he burst on the scene aged just 16. Former Toffees captain and United team-mate Phil Neville believes Rooney could be the key source in ending their lengthy trophy drought. “Everton have bought quality and what is more exciting is the young players breaking through – couple that with Wayne Rooney and it should be good. Everton could be one of the teams to watch this year,” he said.

This fresh start under Koeman is so far proving to be a masterstroke. Rooney’s experience and quality can never be questioned. He will want to prove to the doubters that he is far from finished and if anyone can, it is Wayne Rooney.

Will Rooney haunt his former club at the weekend? Rooney to score and Everton to win 1-0 at 125/1

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