On 19 October 2002, a 16-year-old Wayne Rooney burst into the consciousness of the football world with a stunning last-minute winning goal for Everton at Goodison Park that put an end to Arsenal’s 30-game unbeaten run in the Premier League.
Fifteen years on Rooney is one of the most celebrated English footballers of all time.
He has broken records at club and international level and has hit double figures in every season for Manchester United since joining them in 2004. However, having started just nine league games this term, Rooney’s future is unclear.
Despite having a contract that runs until 2019, the 31-year-old has continually been linked with a move away from Old Trafford. And his old club are, reportedly, one of the contenders for his signature.
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Everton boss Ronald Koeman has made no attempt to play down the rumours, publicly admitting his admiration for the player. “I believe that Wayne Rooney is still playing at a high level,” the Dutch manager said.
“I don’t know [what will happen at the end of the season] but in my opinion he is one of the players who can make Everton…stronger … Every player that we at Everton think can make the team stronger is welcome.”
The idea of Rooney returning to Everton is an interesting one and it will no doubt be explored by both parties in the coming months. However, would the move make for player and club?
WHY ROONEY SHOULD RETURN TO EVERTON
One of the most enticing aspects of Koeman’s management is his desire to nurture youth. During his time at Southampton he displayed this tendency by giving opportunities to Harrison Reed and Matt Targett.
He has continued this approach at Everton, including 20-year-old defender Mason Holgate and 18-year-old midfielder Tom Davies in his lineup on a frequent basis.
As a result, Everton have one of the most promising young squads in the Premier League and a manager willing to develop prospects. It’s an appealing combination of factors, though Rooney could play an important part in the club’s project over the shorter term were he to re-join.
At present, the Toffees are wedded to their seventh-place league position. They aren’t quite ready to break into the top six but they are also far better than those below them in the table.
In order to aid the transition from exciting young side to real Champions League contenders, the addition of quality experience could prove beneficial, and Rooney would bring this in abundance.
Having operated at the highest level of club and international football for over a decade, Rooney would set an example for Holgate, Davies and any others to follow, not only with his on-pitch actions but through his understanding of what is required to compete with the very best.
Rooney could help get the best out of Everton’s youth and, at the same time, Everton’s system and style could enable Rooney to flourish once again.
The chances are, with Romelu Lukaku having established himself as one of the best strikers in English football, Rooney would probably operate in a free role behind the Belgian frontman.
Freed from the responsibility of leading the line on his own or retaining rigid positioning in midfield, he would be allowed to concentrate on linking play, creating chances and getting into scoring positions – all of which he still does to a good standard.
The player has also been linked with a lucrative move to China. But such a transfer would take him further out of the limelight as far as English football is concerned.
Ignoring eye-watering finances in favour of a return to Everton would not only allow Rooney to reassert himself in the Premier League, but re-confirm his status within the England national team.
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WHY ROONEY SHOULD NOT RETURN TO EVERTON
Holgate and Davies are just two examples of what is an exciting new era for Everton. The former, a versatile defender with the intelligence and technical capacity to play in a three or four-man defensive line, and the latter, a gifted creative midfielder, are joined by Lukaku, Ross Barkley, Ademola Lookman, Kieran Dowell and others in forming a vibrant and youthful nucleus.
Everton have a number of tomorrow’s superstars. By signing Rooney they would be bringing in yesterday’s superstar. Considering the long career behind him, his notable decline in form over recent seasons and the fact he will turn 32 later this year, the attacker is unquestionably beyond his peak.
And, regardless of his expertise, he may soon not be an upgrade on the options Koeman already has available to him – options who are a decade younger than the Manchester United captain.
Another harsh reality to take into account should Rooney move back to Everton is that the team would likely have to be built around the player.
Without the energy of his younger self, the sharpness in and around the final third and the insatiable hunger that came with his needing to live up such intense hype, Rooney’s presence in the team could lead to a focus on him that may in turn harm the development of those around him.
This issue is particularly relevant to Barkley who, with his blend of athleticism, vigour and skill along with tactical deficiencies and a need for creative license, has been likened to a youthful Rooney.
Furthermore, his arrival would also be an extremely costly one that would likely require compromise from both sides – the player would need to take a pay cut on the £300,000 per week Manchester United currently pay him, while the Toffees would need to pay more than they do for anyone else; their current highest-paid player, Lukaku, earns £90,000 per week.
Rooney would enjoy a return to Everton from a tactical standpoint. He would be the star of the team, the creative fulcrum and would almost certainly enjoy a level of freedom not given to him in recent years by Manchester United or England.
However, his impact, even if positive in the short-term, would not be a long-standing one.
At 31, he is well past his peak now. And, with signs of promise coming from Everton first team and the youth academy, as well as a manager capable of leading them on to bigger and better things, the club’s project should not be sacrificed at this stage.
Rooney represents Everton’s past, and it may be beneficial for the club that it remains that way.