Wednesday 23 October 2019

Allardyce can make renaissance man Rooney new Jay-Jay Okocha

Everton's Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring Everton's third goal against Swansea City on Monday. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters
Everton's Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring Everton's third goal against Swansea City on Monday. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Jason Burt

Is Wayne Rooney the new Jay-Jay Okocha? Rooney's renaissance at Everton under Sam Allardyce has echoes of how the Nigerian playmaker arrived at Bolton Wanderers in 2002 and flourished, as did Youri Djorkaeff and others.

One of Allardyce's managerial strengths has been the ability to get the best out of older players and those whose best years are behind them, most recently Jermain Defoe at Sunderland.

Rooney looked washed up. He was not even in the team under David Unsworth, and cut a forlorn figure on the bench as Everton's season spiralled. He appeared little more than a sentimental signing by chairman Bill Kenwright.

Rooney (right) had also been convicted of drink driving, ordered to undertake 100 hours of community service, and maybe that experience has helped him to get things back on track.

As Everton prepare to face Chelsea today, Rooney has emerged as a key figure. It is fair to say that Allardyce, when he was briefly England manager, was not entirely sure what to do with Rooney and even commented he could "play where he wants", which set teeth grinding given the debate over the then captain's worth.

Now Allardyce has a very clear role for Rooney. It is the role which, at 32, best suits him. Allardyce's friend, David Moyes, talked about trying to teach Rooney to play in midfield when he was Manchester United manager, and he gave it a go there under Louis van Gaal before Jose Mourinho spelt it out that he was either a striker, a No 10, or not needed.

Playing in the United midfield never really worked for Rooney as they wanted to move the ball through the pitch and he did not have the short passing game for that. At Everton, it is different. It is not as if they have played particularly well since Allardyce was appointed but four league wins and a draw is some return, with Rooney claiming five goals.

Allardyce is keeping it simple. He is not asking Rooney to do too much. He is almost the 'extra' man. Allardyce wants him to play from midfield, using his long-range passing, and to arrive in the penalty area when he chooses; to pick his moments and, eventually, his matches.

It has worked. Allardyce has broken down Rooney's game and built up his importance and, suddenly, he has already hit 10 league goals. Remarkably, it means Rooney has achieved double figures in 12 seasons, but this is the first time he has reached the mark before Christmas since 2011-'12, when he went on to score 27 times. No one is expecting that kind of return but his contribution should not be underestimated.

In fact, Rooney's goals have earned Everton a precious seven points - only Raheem Sterling has registered more for his club. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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