It takes time for a giant to fall and in Wayne Rooney’s case the descent to terra firma began three years ago, eventually concluding with a thudding crash towards the tail-end of Louis van Gaal’s first season in charge. Having played over 52,000 minutes of ultra-competitive top-class football since the age of 17 his impact as a rampaging centre-forward was quite obviously diminishing and a deeper role as a playmaker deemed more productive. It wasn’t. It was anything but productive.
Some picked up on this straight away, namely the Stretford End faithful who had sung his name for over a decade. Others made excuses, a long litany of them. The debate quickly grew tiresome.
Then the season before last a strange thing happened. The giant remained slain; a shadow of his former self and now down in the dirt with the rest of us yet the excuses kept on coming. It was just a poor patch, we were told. Pundits and journalists pontificated on what was Rooney’s best position instead of querying why this mortalised, ineffective figure was deserving of a position at all. Game after game, week after week, his passes went astray and his touch was cumbersome and that on the occasions when he wasn’t completely anonymous. By the end of 2015/16 Rooney’s two most impressive achievements were as contradictory as it gets: he became England’s all-time leading goal-scorer while disproving the well-worn adage that form is temporary, class is permanent. As a force – and let’s not take away what an incredible force he consistently was for many a year – he was gone. Not fading. No longer diminishing. He was gone.
Jose Mourinho knew this, as did the bulk of the British public and press by now, which is why his prolonged demotion to the Old Trafford bench was met only with half-hearted sensationalism. The papers tried, bless them, to rally a sustainable narrative around this development – one that two or three years ago would have been given top billing on the six o’clock news – but Rooney simply smiled through it and the nation shrugged.
There was no longer an elephant in the room, there was no longer an elephant in United’s midfield and all that was left was a gravy-train trip across America’s MLS before retirement.
Enter stage left Everton, a schooling ground that had long been considered a destination for the striker to enjoy a sentimental swansong but that was before the trajectories of both club and player essentially swapped. That was then. This is now.
Just a week into the transfer window’s official opening and already Everton have bossed it, signing the best England keeper and centre-back of 2016/17 as they approach their peak, Ajax’s creator and captain Davy Klaassen, and a striker in Sandro guaranteed to bring goals and dynamism to their front line. Throw in the persistent rumours surrounding Olivier Giroud and Gylfi Sigurdsson and things are looking pretty sweet for the blue half of Merseyside with even a top four challenge being prematurely predicted in some quarters.
Should the 31-year-old return down the M62 this summer it will be a disastrous decision undertaken by the Toffees for all manner of reasons and not just football ones. It will breathe new life into the Cult of Rooney that has persisted in spirit only these past three years as his mind and body failed him. The club’s astute and steady progress under Koeman will be relegated to the margins, the spotlight exclusively on the player slowing down attacks and invariably finding row K with an attempted quarterback pass. To the possible detriment – and definite detraction – of all that Everton are creating next season’s travails will be all about a player who became short-hand for modern football; a one-man industry.
Make no mistake about it the media need Wayne Rooney. He is – atop all of his mightily brilliant achievements – their creation. He sells newspapers. He sells beer. He is a mythical beast who helped another mythical beast in Sky become a behemoth. It would not be in the least bit surprising to learn that for the past three years Clive Tyldesley has gobbled down Prozac each morning just to get him through the day.
Rooney to Everton will only re-energise the cult; it will act as the final glorious chapter in a tale for the ages, or at least that’s how it will be presented to us. At what cost to Everton? We’ll start with a quarter of a million in wages a week and go from there.
And all the time he will frustrate, and plod and toil, often the worst player on the pitch by some considerable distance.
It takes time for a giant to fall but he will always remain a giant in some eyes.
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