Wayne Rooney says he was forced out of Everton in the summer of 2004, with the Toffees actively touting him out to potential clubs as they needed raise cash to ease their crippling finances.
Rooney left Goodison Park for Manchester United on transfer deadline day in a deal worth around £30m.
Most supporters accepted Rooney’s steep career trajectory meant he would likely leave sooner rather than later, but it was hoped he would stay even one season longer. It was a devastating moment to see one of the most talented players to ever graduate from Everton’s youth academy leave before his 19th birthday.
Everton’s financial issues were well known, with then-chairman Bill Kenwright famously saying he had to beg the banks to not close the club down. But the narrative at the time was that Rooney pushed to leave the club after his spectacular performances at Euro 2004 catapulted him onto the international stage.
However, speaking to boxer and Evertonian Tony Bellew on his new BBC podcast, Rooney says the club was actively looking to cash-in on him earlier in the summer.
“Before Euro 2004, I knew that I was getting touted to other teams - because Everton needed the money. Certain individuals were going into other clubs saying ‘would you take Wayne Rooney for £30m?’
“I was heartbroken, I loved the club and wanted to play for Everton.
“To find that out, I was devastated. I would have left at some point, of course I would’ve, to try and better myself and go and win trophies. But I was devastated.
“I went to Barbados after Euro 2004, I’d broken my foot obviously. I came back to Bellefield and was ready to go out and start running, and step up my training from a broken foot. I remember getting told you can’t do that because if your foot breaks down we won’t be able to sell you.”
Rooney revealed Chelsea, into their second year under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, had offered the most money and Everton were pushing the striker in that direction.
Rooney, though, did not want to move to London and instead pushed for Manchester United, meaning he could stay in the north west of England, even though they had offered less cash.
The Red Devils did not initially seem in the running for the teenager, though a rumoured bid from Newcastle seemed to jolt Sir Alex Ferguson’s side into action.
“I was getting pushed to go and play for Chelsea because they offered the most money, but I said ‘you’re not dictating where I go - I want to go to Manchester United’.
“It was lost money for Everton, but that’s where I wanted to play. I didn’t want to go to London, I didn’t want to go to Chelsea. But I got told the only way you’re going to Man Utd is if you put a transfer request in.”
Rooney’s fate was sealed when he handed in that transfer request in late August, scrawled on a napkin from the canteen and plonked on David Moyes’ desk. That meant he would not be owed certain loyalty bonuses, saving Everton yet more cash.
At the time it played into the narrative that Rooney wanted out and was ready to do anything in order to do so, but it now appears things were not so black and white.
“This was in Moyesy’s office. So I went into the canteen and wrote ‘I Wayne Rooney request a transfer from Everton Football Club’ on a napkin, or something! Walked back into Moyesy’s office and said ‘there you go’.
“I felt I got backed into a corner to a certain extent, but that’s football.”
Rooney has been largely silent about his Everton exit, even when he returned to the club four years’ ago.
He had to deal with a huge amount of flack in the ensuing years when it appears the true story of his departure was never fully told.
These revelations will inevitably lead to fresh questions of Kenwright and how the club got in such a position whereby they had to sell their most talented young player to stave off bankruptcy.
Bellew said himself that he had heard from senior figures in the club that Rooney had ‘saved’ Everton, which makes you wonder just how bad their finances were.
In mitigation, the club was in a financial mess when Kenwright took over and what little cash he did have was spent on simply buying out previous chairman Peter Johnson.
A disastrous spending spree in 2000 (sound familiar?) on the assumption a media deal with NTL was imminent plunged the club further into the red. When the NTL deal subsequently collapsed, the banks came calling and more than a decade of austerity followed.
Rooney very much felt like the right player at the wrong time. Had he come through even five years later it is likely he would have likely stayed for longer than two years. That said, had he not emerged when he did where would the club be now without the £30m to save them from financial oblivion?