So after all the fanfare of 12 months ago Wayne Rooney’s Everton return is over as quickly as it began.
The former England striker has signed a three-and-a-half-year deal with MLS side DC United, bringing to an end an underwhelming year back in royal blue.
Rooney’s final appearance in an Everton shirt was a 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town in April, where he was hauled off after 62 minutes, while his final Toffees goal was a penalty against Swansea City, seven months ago.
Hardly the kind of blockbusting return we were hoping for when Rooney made his emotional return last July but perhaps evidence as to why his departure is best for all concerned.
I admit to being skeptical about Rooney’s abilities after seeing his decline at Manchester United. Rooney has been a first-team regular since the age of 16 and all those miles on the clock were clearly beginning to take its toll.
However, seeing Wayne pull on the Blue shirt again (and THAT Twitter signing video), I couldn’t help but be taken in by the romance of the prodigal son narrative.
A move back home could have been just what Rooney needed to revitalise his ageing legs and extend his career by 2-3 years.
That’s what we all hoped for anyway.
And that certainly looked the case when he headed the winner against Stoke City on opening day, his passion and love for the club written all over his face. The broken bonds between him and the fans appeared to have been fully repaired after years of antagonism following his move to Manchester United as a teenager.
I felt 10 Premier League goals would be a decent return for Rooney in his first season back so to get that by December was a fine effort, especially as one of those goals was an equaliser in the Anfield derby.
Sadly, Rooney’s form tailed off dramatically since the new year, and I don’t think it is as simple to blame it on the arrival of Sam Allardyce (for once).
Allardyce actually played Rooney regularly but his waning skills and tired legs meant he always looked an awkward fit. He cannot play upfront anymore, but also struggled as a number 10. And when deployed there it resulted in Gylfi Sigurdsson - the best #10 at the club - being shunted out onto the left.
Therefore dropping back into a deeper role, where he could demonstrate his wide passing range, looked to be the best place for Rooney - something Paul Scholes successfully employed in the latter years of his career.
Rooney before and after Xmas:— EFC Statto (@EFC_Statto) May 8, 2018
Games - 16
Goals - 10
Assists - 2
Chances created - 22
Successful att. third passes pg - 9.3
Recoveries pg - 5.4
Games - 15
Goals - 0
Assists - 0
Chances created - 12
Successful att. third passes pg - 7.7
Recoveries pg - 4.5#EFC
That’s fine against struggling teams at home where Everton will dominate the ball (West Ham, Brighton, etc..), but away from home or against pacy, midfield opponents, Rooney looked simply overwhelmed and there seems to be little he can do about it.
Rooney’s attitude, determination and fierce will to win remains as strong as ever, but his body is letting him down and his frustration is there for all to see, culminating in his furious reaction to being substituted in April’s Merseyside Derby.
EFC stats 17/18— Tony Scott (@Tony_Scott11) May 10, 2018
Wayne Rooney EFC Team ranking-
1st - Goals scored (10 goals from 27 starts)
2nd - Chances created (Sigurdsson 1st)
1st - Shots
1st - Shots on target
2nd - Key passes per game (Sigurdsson 1st)
1st - Goals involved in.
EFC failed to win a PL match without Rooney
That Allardyce was right to bring Rooney off suggests his reaction was as much due to his waning powers as it was to his manager’s coaching (in)abilities. But looking at the raw stats it seems Rooney’s decline isn’t as sharp as some would have you believe.
He was the club’s top scorer, had more shots than any other player while only Gylfi has created more chances or made more key passes. However, is that merely a reflection of Everton’s struggles last season and could someone else (i.e. Gylfi) do a far better job in Rooney’s position.
Marco Silva and Marcel Brands clearly feel it was the former.
The wheels of the move were already in motion when Brands and Silva joined the club but both have since held talks with Rooney and agreed it was best for him to move on.
The new management team is charged with unpicking the mess created by last summer’s botched transfer strategy, so the opportunity to free up Rooney’s £150,000-a-week wages is an easy win.
Wages aside, it’s clear Rooney also held the team back in some way, as he was often shoehorned into the side and blunted the skills of some of his teammates.
Someone of his experience and knowledge would always be of benefit to the team on the training ground. But would Rooney be happy with a bit part role? His reaction during the Goodison derby suggests not.
And if that’s the case then it’s perhaps best his Toffees career has to come to a timid end, albeit with the option to return to the club as a coach when he finally hangs up his boots. There’s been no official confirmation on this, but it appears there is a clause in the transfer whereby he can come back to Everton in a coaching capacity, likely to earn his UEFA badges.
It was a move led by the heart rather than the head but I’m glad it happened just so we didn’t spend forever wondering what might have been. Now we can ruminate instead on what might have been had he come back two or three years earlier when Roberto Martinez was in charge and the Blues were recalling the School of Science.
But Rooney’s entire Everton career, bookending his trophy-laden years at Old Trafford, can be summed up in one sentence: ‘left too soon, returned too late’.