Sense over sentiment should preclude Rooney return

Lyndon Lloyd 22/02/2017  233 Comments  [Jump to last]
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We Blues can be a sentimental bunch. We've always retained an attachment to our own, particularly home-grown players living the dream of playing for their boyhood club as well those whom we have adopted as Evertonians through their feats on the pitch or attachment to Everton FC.

Perhaps it's a consequence of the fact that the Premier League era has been such a struggle for Everton as we have tried and thus far failed to drag ourselves back into the elite of Englands' clubs that we have treasured players who have symbolised that battle or simply provided moments that hinted at what could be again for one of the country's sleeping giants.

In both of those respects, Wayne Rooney's relationship with supporters who watched him fulfil the potential he showed as a prodigious talent in the club's academy is as complicated as any. Regarded as the best youth product of his generation and a Goodison legend in waiting, he left Everton before he had turned 19.

His departure for Manchester United in 2004 was controversial, confusing, painful and bitter and over the past 13 years, Blues fans have watched the kid from Crocky, who had an Everton flag hanging in his bedroom window, carve out a glittering career at a former peer club and achieve everything in the game we all hoped he could with us.

History has, of course, shown that in terms of a cold, hard calculation for his career, Rooney's move to Old Trafford was undoubtedly the best decision he could have made. As much as it pains Evertonians to admit, he could never have achieved even a fraction of the success he has enjoyed as a Red Devil had he remained a Toffee.

Indeed, it is believed that the eventual £27m Everton received for him helped stave off financial ruin and the continuation of a trophy drought extending back to 1995 would seem to confirm that if it was silverware he wanted, he was better off playing under Sir Alex Ferguson. Might he have helped steer the Blues to a cup win at some point had he stayed at Goodison? Perhaps, but the club's underlying financial and commercial problems would have precluded any lasting success and, perversely, the team did better in the first season without him, coming within a Collina calamity of making the Champions League group stages.

Until now, of course, which is why, with his Manchester United career seemingly winding down, talk has resurfaced that Rooney could make a long-mooted return to his first love if he isn't tempted by almost unimaginable riches reportedly on offer in China. To read the thoughts of some on social media, for example, not to mention tabloid press reports, you would think it was a natural and foregone conclusion to a long and storied career in which he has become not only the top goalscorer in United's history but England's as well that he should return home to Everton.

Evertonian attitudes towards Wayne have undoubtedly softened over the years. The bitterness that manifested itself in vitriol on fan websites and graffiti bearing the legend, “could have been a god, chose to be a Devil” and that was rekindled during his infamous badge-kissing celebration at Goodison when he scored his first United goal on his old stomping ground in the face of boos from the stands has dissipated. To the point where he was welcomed back for his re-appearance in Royal Blue for Duncan Ferguson's testimonial 18 months ago.

That doesn't mean he would be universally accepted should he come back — there will always be a core who will never forgive him for leaving — but even if he were, would it be wise to sign him? After all, we're talking about a player who turns 32 this year and who is no longer a guaranteed starter for the club that sits just one place above is in the Premier League table.

His loss of pace has seen him drop back from his typical role as a striker into a more withdrawn central midfield role and his effectiveness as a regular starter for his country has also been strenuously contested over the past 12 months, not least during England's disastrous Euro2016 campaign.

Even if he were to lop a massive two thirds off his eye-watering £300,000-a-week United salary — and to try to come anywhere close to matching his current wages would be unconscionable — Everton would still need to make him their most expensive player… or at least pay him a similar amount as that which is said to be on the table awaiting Romelu Lukaku's signature. For a player deemed “past it” by his current club.

In the short term, he could be an effective acquisition, and not just from the point of view of marketing and the (arguably) questionable notion of “putting Everton back on the map”. After all, he was — as embarrassing as it was to admit — easily the best Everton player on the pitch during Ferguson's testimonial game and even if he didn't start every game, he would improve the current Blues team. But for how long? And at what cost to, say, Ross Barkley's progression, because it is the place of another homegrown Blue diamond that a returning Rooney would most likely take.

To these eyes, the fear is that a returning Wayne Rooney would come “home” on huge money on something like a three- or four-year deal, have a positive early impact but wind up compromising his legacy by playing on when it was clear he was well past his best. Players who gave Everton the peak years of their careers and were vital parts of the team like Dunc himself, Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta, Leon Osman and even Phil Jagielka have ended up, through no fault of their own — they didn't pick themselves — being the focus of some supporters' ire because of their diminished effectiveness as age caught up with them.

Ronald Koeman and Steve Walsh need to strengthen the team in the area of the pitch that Rooney can operate but with the feeling around the club being one of potential rebirth under that management team and both the ambition and resources of Farhad Moshiri, the emphasis should be on putting long-term pieces in place — younger, hungrier players rather than expensive, ageing additions that would seem to satisfy some seemingly pre-ordained return of the Prodigal Son rather than a dispassionate outlook on what's best for sustained success.

A Rooney reunion at Goodison would be a heart-warming end to his incredible career. Like Duncan Ferguson before him, it would represent for many the return of a Blue to the fold where he belongs. You can't help feeling, however, that if Everton are to achieve what Moshiri wants in the coming years, it's time the club looked resolutely forward and left such sentiment in the past.

Follow @Everton1an


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