His is a name not easily forgotten.
Most Evertonians will be able to tell you where they were at approximately 4.50pm on 19th October 2012 – it was one of those moments. I was a 13 year old at a friend’s house as the commentator’s screams blared through the radio, the Blues among us jumping and cheering, more in celebration of the last minute winner against the Premier League winners than in celebration for the scorer.
Once it became clear exactly who had ended Arsenal’s remarkable 30-game unbeaten run, we knew something special had happened.
Rooney had been the name on everyone’s lips for a number of years. Fan sites would keep tabs on the man-child running riot in the academy. People would turn up to watch academy games and describe solo goals that beggared belief. And as the star player in the Everton’s run to the FA Youth Cup final, by the summer of 2002 Rooney was a name already familiar to the Goodison faithful.
His rasping 30-yard winner past David Seaman brought the Rooney name into the national spotlight but while Arsene Wenger was busy proclaiming him as the best English talent he’d seen since arriving at Arsenal, Everton fans were already well aware of his special talents. They knew this was just the beginning.
Winners against Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers and another last gasp-winner against Aston Villa were all to come in a breakthrough season which saw him net six times while becoming the youngest player ever to represent England at senior level. Here was a 16-cum-17 year old who was utterly fearless in the presence of grown men. He left seasoned professionals and experienced internationals in his wake, bamboozling them with sheer skill, steamrolling them with exceptional speed and strength and making England goalkeepers look especially silly with sublime goals all of his own making. Watching him play football was a joy, because you knew that playing football was a joy to Wayne Rooney. With every touch he got fans off their seats, their hearts filled with the anticipation that can only be stirred by once-in-a-generation talents.
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A second season saw him improve on his goal return, netting nine times before his inevitable inclusion in England’s 2004 squad for the European Championships in Portugal. By now a household name in England, the name Rooney began to reverberate throughout the continent after a blistering start to his first international tournament. His four goals made him the youngest scorer in European Championship history before a metatarsal injury cut short his debut campaign.
With the world sitting up and taking notice, there was an inevitability about his departure from Everton. As a 15 year old in the summer of 2004 I was naive enough to believe that true-blue Rooney would reject the advances of United, Madrid and Barcelona, and stay at his beloved Everton.
So seeing him hold up the red of United next to a beaming Alex Ferguson later that summer was a gut-wrenching experience. This die-hard Evertonian from Croxteth played with the hopes and dreams of millions of Evertonians weighing heavily on his young but bulky shoulders. When Rooney left, the hope of a better future for Everton seemed to leave with him.
But Evertonians never forgot. Some wished him well while others were quick to vent their fury at one of their own who’d thrown their dreams back their faces. Crude banners were displayed and vitriolic chants were sung on the odd occasion Rooney returned to Goodison Park. Some will say they still cannot forgive but for most fans time is a good healer.
Most Blues knew the 18 year old could not stay at Everton and they would not deny him the opportunity to display his undoubted talents on the biggest stages. And after five Premier Leagues, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, 4 League Cups and 1 Club World Cup, you’re left to admit that it was the right move.
But is Rooney’s return to Everton the right move?
It’s certainly not unexpected. Murmurs of a return to L4 have been doing the rounds in Liverpool for a couple of years and with Rooney making no secret of his continued support for Everton (even making no effort to hide images of his son kitted out in Everton colours) it seemed an obvious final destination.
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Perhaps that was what Evertonians thought they needed a few years ago, but the picture at Goodison has changed dramatically. For years Everton have fed off the unwanted scraps discarded by Alex Ferguson; in danger of becoming not just a feeder club to their north-west rivals but a club which relied on players deemed not good enough at Old Trafford.
This summer has already seen Farhad Moshiri sanction upwards of £90million on Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaasen, Sandro Ramirez and Michael Keane. All of them wanted men, all of them courted by big clubs across Europe and all of them persuaded by the ambitious project being undertaken at Goodison Park.
So while Rooney (like Neville, Howard, Gibson, et al) is clearly no longer wanted by United, the circumstances of the transfer could not be more different. Just two years ago, Rooney’s arrival would have been as good as it gets in the transfer window for Everton. He’d have been the marquee signing.
But with the additions already made and the swift and convincing way Steve Walsh and Ronald Koeman have recruited so far, this need not be the end of the window. It really is just the beginning.
And yet there is still a niggle of doubt in my mind. A conflict between the poetic homecoming and the arrival of a striker who scored just five league goals last season. A conflict between the return of a childhood hero and the reality of a 31 year old whose career (despite ultimately going down as one of the finest in English football) is suffering a visible decline. A conflict between the memories of those breathtaking goals for his beloved Blues and his return of just 8 and 5 league goals in the last two seasons.
Admittedly I wasn’t terribly excited by the prospect of Rooney returning to the club when it was seriously mooted a few months ago. And yet, when I saw the footage of him pulling into Finch Farm on Saturday afternoon for his medical, and when the realisation hit home that this really was going to happen, I couldn’t help the excitement welling up inside. It was the same excitement my 13 year old self shared with his friends as we heard the stadium announcer reveal the goalscorer over the deafening cheers. Goodison Park sang his name long after the final whistle blew against Arsenal, fans knowing they had just witnessed something special. Only Wayne Rooney could do that to an Evertonian and now he’s back, so is the anticipation.