Saturday 19 August 2017

Daniel McDonnell: Everton move can prolong Rooney's stay at top table

A trip down memory lane can galvanise fallen star if he embraces fresh responsibility

Wayne Rooney had plenty to smile about at yesterday’s press conference alongside Everton boss Ronald Koeman. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Wayne Rooney had plenty to smile about at yesterday’s press conference alongside Everton boss Ronald Koeman. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Never go back.' It's a football cliche that gets trotted out from time to time and the rationale behind it is understandable. Why attempt to recreate former glories when the moment may have passed?

Generally, it's a line applied to managers. Think Kevin Keegan's return to Newcastle, Jose Mourinho's Chelsea comeback or even Kenny Dalglish's final fling with Liverpool.

Playing wise, Robbie Fowler (Liverpool), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Joe Cole (West Ham), Teddy Sheringham (Spurs) and Thierry Henry (Arsenal) are amongst those who have gone down memory lane with the end in sight.

They enjoyed varying degrees of success back at their old stomping ground, but it's fair to say that it never quite felt the same as the first time.

The assumption is that the personalities involved - and their employers - are going with their heart rather than their head.

But it may be unwise to apply that logic to Wayne Rooney's return to Everton. This is a transfer that makes sense for both parties, even if some of the fanfare around it lends itself to scepticism.

Rooney's revelation that he slept in Everton pyjamas while he was a Manchester United player is an unusual way to curry favour, especially as he's far too young to have been wearing pyjamas on a regular basis.

He's a different animal now to the thrilling teenager that left his boyhood club over 13 years ago. With over 750 games on his CV, he's the car that needs an annual NCT. But he is a good fit for Everton at this stage of their development.

For the past couple of years, Rooney has resembled a lost soul, living off his reputation.

One of the stranger legacies of David Moyes' short-lived tenure at Old Trafford was the new five-and-a-half-year, £300k-a-week contract that he signed at the beginning of 2014. It secured Rooney's future and tied the hands of the managers that came in afterwards.

There's no easy way to shift a player on that kind of money without finding a suitor with deeper pockets. And as it became clear that his powers had waned, to pardon the pun, China and USA emerged as the only options that could really have ticked that box.

The American interest never really seemed to amount to much and inglorious stints in the MLS for Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have raised Stateside doubts about the logic in splashing out for English players attracted by the lifestyle as opposed to the football.

China seemed an option for a time and their clubs have splashed out without applying logic.

But the regulars on the Manchester beat have never got the sense from Rooney that he possessed a wanderlust. There's an old 2008 quote that follows him around in this regard.

It emanated from a time where he was mentioned as a target for Barcelona and Real Madrid as opposed to Beijing or Shanghai. Rooney was asked if he ever fancied plying his trade overseas. "Be honest lads," he replied, "Can you see me playing abroad?"

For the homebird, the Everton option has emerged at just the right time - and it's a safer bet to prolong the 31-year-old's career than heading abroad for the big bucks and making the wrong kind of statement about his future ambitions.

Rooney wants to be involved in next summer's World Cup and indicated yesterday that he would have waved goodbye to that dream by taking up residency elsewhere. With Jermaine Defoe making a comeback at 34, Russia is a realistic aim.

But his role there may well be as a senior figure around the camp as opposed to a guaranteed starter. At Everton, he might also have to occasionally cope with being an ambassadorial presence - a brief that will sit easier there than it did at Manchester United where it represented a clear fall from top dog status.

It can be spun in the right way at Everton where it appears that the manager wants him - a change from three years working with bosses that inherited him.

There is obvious marketing value to the men upstairs, but Ronald Koeman has spoken convincingly about the benefit of bringing in a character with trophy winning experience to a dressing room with potential.

Other summer recruits such as Davy Klaassen, Jordan Pickford and Michael Keane, are still on the way up. Spanish striker Sandro was on the fringes of greatness of Barcelona but is only 22. The analysis of where Rooney might fit into the side does provoke questions.

Struggle

Klaassen is a playmaker, and if the 'number ten' role is Rooney's best position then it might occasionally be a struggle to accommodate both of them. If the old-timer is pushed forward, he will need someone with him and that would require a tactical shift. But those are problems that the Dutchman is capable of dealing with; they don't all have to fall into place during pre-season.

For a mid-tier club the presence of a player that is used to rubbing shoulders with the elite can be beneficial. Darren Fletcher is appreciated more now that he's brought his experience to pastures new. Gareth Barry said goodbye to challenging for titles at Manchester City but is a valued part of the furniture at Everton despite his advancing years.

There is a substantial gulf between the top clubs and the chasing pack that is often well illustrated by how the outcasts from first class stand out in economy.

Maybe it's not the way we expected the Rooney story to pan out. Whatever he may say, these are hardly the circumstances in which he may have envisaged an Everton return happening - he arrives with something to prove as opposed to nothing to prove.

That aspect could be what makes it work.

Irish Independent

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