Football is half sport, half soap opera in the modern era. Players are athletes and characters, fixtures and matches, episodes and the mundane stories that surround games are whipped up into gossip by the ever-eager media. Purists will scoff at the changing of the beautiful game, but the bulk of fans enjoy all that goes with the goals and tackles, gleefully lapping up events such as Sky Sports’ Deadline Day coverage and analysing managers’ every word for even a crumb of unsaid meaning.
One of the great protagonists of the past 20 years in England is Wayne Rooney. Very much the Premier League’s Phil Mitchell, the Manchester United man has been the subject of cliffhanger moments on so many occasions and has been written off regularly only to surge back through an amazing plot twist that leaves us mouths-agape. Much like his Eastenders counterpart, ‘Wazza’ is nearing the end of his shelf-life (not in the same manner as Phil, we hasten to add), but we all know there is one last dum dum dum moment… and that could come in the shape of a return to
the Queen Vic Everton.
The Chinese Super League is supposedly calling Rooney, offering to make him the highest paid player in the history of the game with a contract worth a mooted £1,000,000-per-week – quite the statement, even given the vast wealth of the Far East nation’s football scene. One could quite easily forgive Rooney for packing up his rucksack and leaving Albert Square for good, but it feels just a little too soon. Granted, he’s surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record at Man United with his 250th strike for the club vs. Stoke in January and is already England’s leading marksman with 53, but at 31, there are still a few miles left in the tank, miles that would be wasted in the CSL.
In a narrative sense, Everton is the logical next destination. Rooney was raised on Merseyside, broke into the Toffees’ first team and enjoyed one of his greatest moments in the blue shirt as a 16-year-old when he drilled a last-minute winner past David Seaman in the Arsenal goal at Goodison Park. But, the storyline isn’t the only element of this joining-the-dots process that makes sense…
As alluded to above, Rooney is perhaps a little too young to effectively slip into retirement. He may have more games under his belt than most 31-year-olds, but even with the miles he’s covered it’s not yet the end. David Beckham joined MLS side Los Angeles Galaxy at a similar age in 2007 and quickly realised that he could still cut it in Europe, returning via two loan spells with AC Milan and a short-term contract in France at Paris Saint-Germain.
Interestingly ‘Becks’ retained his international aspirations despite moving across the Atlantic Ocean, which contributed heavily to winter returns to his home continent. However, the dead-ball expert’s Three Lions career entered a new phase when he opted for the States, with managers such as Fabio Capello no longer viewing him as an essential pick, which saw him falling an agonising ten games short of Peter Shilton’s all-time England appearances record, 125. Rooney is currently on 119 and will most likely overtake the one-time goalkeeper and add another record to his collection, but why risk it? He also has the prospect of captaining his nation at a World Cup when Russia 2018 comes around, a state of affairs that will be in jeopardy should he head to China, where the standard of football is, arguably, lower than that which Beckham was involved in with LA at the time.
Everton also presents the chance to stay in the Premier League. Rooney would not only be keeping his career going in one of the world’s best league competitions – a boost for his England hopes – but would be staying in a style of football he’s accustomed to and a country he’s at home in. Nobody is doubting the forward’s ability to cut it in the CSL, but no amount of money will ensure he settles in a country that is so vastly different to England in so many ways. Not only would it be home comforts that make Everton so appealing, there’s the very real prospect of being a first-team regular. Toffees fans may scoff at the notion of Rooney walking into Ronald Koeman’s XI, but the Dutchman would likely find a place for the experienced star, who still has plenty to offer in a footballing sense.
Staying with the theme of the Merseyside club, Everton themselves may be looking for a new striker come the summer. Rooney is no longer in Romelu Lukaku’s class, but with the Belgian’s future discussed every off-season, there is a very realistic chance that 2017 could be the year he heads away, leaving a void in both the forward position and the team’s talisman slot. Rooney’s ability to lead and lend advice to young players such as Ross Barkley could be vital in the progression of the club, too.
It would be a scriptwriter’s dream to see the 31-year-old make the short trip back down the M62 to Liverpool. Everton brought Rooney into the footballing world and it would be fitting to see his career in English football completed with a return. Narrative is not reason enough, but narrative is not the only reason this makes sense.