Saturday 24 February 2018

Rejuvenated Rooney proves he still has enough weapons

Everton's Wayne Rooney. Photo: AP
Everton's Wayne Rooney. Photo: AP
James Lawton

James Lawton

Has the real Wayne Rooney finally re-announced himself? Or has a briefly warmed-up version popped out of the microwave? One thing is certain, though, even if it is a little early to anoint Wayne Rooney as the Renaissance Man of English football.

There is no hardship in acknowledging the impact of his return to Everton. For the moment at least, it can be said that he has gone back to his roots with intentions which might just prove noble.

The promise is of a natural street footballer fighting to re-connect with the best of his past.

At the age of 31 some of it has no doubt flown forever but with two goals in his first two Premier League games for his first club, including his 200th in the league, he has made a brilliant opening statement.

It says that there are formidable weapons remaining in his armoury.

He still has football intelligence to burn. He still has that instinct to be in the right place at the right time which is bestowed in the cradle.

It means that Rooney, a forlorn yesterday man before his time for so much of last season, will once again be a riveting focal point when his unbeaten team take on the revived champions Chelsea tomorrow.

He has earned the attention, however long it lasts, with what has been a formidable act of will.

Each step he makes, each pass he delivers, will carry a significant question. It will ask if the Rooney revival is indeed a reality or just a fleeting show of defiance for the benefit of his heaviest critics?

Most impressive of all these last few weeks, though, has not been the re-incarnation of some of his classic strengths but a quality of professional pride that some feared had entered terminal decline - and not least when his bleary face was emblazoned across the front pages after an all-night drinking session in the hotel of the England team he had been appointed to captain.

That image had the potential to be an epitaph for a career that, despite the scoring records for United and England, had promised so much more when, among others, Arsene Wenger announced that he was the best young English player he had ever seen.

Maybe, though, it will prove to have served a different, less ignominious purpose. Perhaps it was, when his head cleared and the dire implications bore down, the catalyst that made Rooney think about who he was and what he was supposed to represent.

Going back to Everton was not the decision of someone prepared to drift out of the game, taking the last of its huge financial rewards, maybe in China.

Whatever the spur, Rooney looks like a man determined to make a parting from football which will do something to counter the idea that for too many years he lost not only his finest edge but his deepest ambition and passion.

He looks fitter, more engaged and certainly more amiable than in those glum years which developed when his first great backer Alex Ferguson began to despair of his commitment and, five years later, came to their nadir when Jose Mourinho made it clear he regarded him no longer fit for the highest purpose.

If we pick a time when it was apparent that the thrilling promise of Rooney's first years, including his superb impact on the 2004 European Championships, had become somewhat illusory it was probably in the wake of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Still a mere 24, Rooney was morose and remote in an England squad that dismayed coach Fabio Capello with its lack of appetite for the challenge. Rooney confessed to being "bored" in the high-veld training camp and this was before inflaming angry England fans after a listless, goalless draw with Algeria.

Rooney came home to a tabloid feast over aspects of his private life and was soon in bitter conflict with Ferguson and United.

There was talk of a move to Manchester City and more recently periodic speculation that he might be on his way to Chelsea. Then China.

But what would Rooney have done and felt in China, what would have refreshed his game, his ambition? He didn't need the money and no doubt he felt he might have, psychologically, been as well travelling to the other side of the moon.

So, he listened again to the first promptings of his football life. He went home to Merseyside, maybe not only to restore some lustre to his reputation but to draw from football which had given him his first extraordinary impetus.

Where will the instinct lead? Before his decision this week to retire from international football, some believed it might take him back into the England team, a theory supported by manager Gareth Southgate's plan to return him to the squad.

For Rooney, the question was likely to remain in the margins of his ambition for some time. He had already settled on another imperative. It was to make a homecoming that conjured not only the past but the still living force of a talent enjoying again some much needed nourishment.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport