By Dave Downie
I was 15-years old when Wayne Rooney curled that wonderful shot onto the underside of David Seaman’s crossbar at the Park End.
I was sat in the Lower Bullens on the very back row. For those who haven’t had that pleasure, some decent neck muscles are required if you want to see the ball when it goes above head-height, so witnessing Rooney’s perfect first touch from Tommy Gravesen’s punt forward was all the more impressive.
It was the perfect goal.
Excuse the hyperbole, but it made me feel things I never have as an Evertonian and have very rarely felt since. Seeing Rooney emerge from the bench to rescue games and score winners for Everton was everything you wanted and more from a kid who is living every single thing you’ve ever dreamed of. It was fairy-tale stuff.
I think it’s why many have obsessed over local players since his devastating departure 13-years ago – see Ross Barkley. Everything we saw him go on to achieve at Manchester United should have been in a Blue shirt. He should be one of our legends. He should’ve lifted trophies for Everton.
Of course the reality is, given Everton’s situation since he left, his move was vindicated and he’s now one of the most decorated players in English football history and has won everything there is to win. Can you really blame him for leaving? I don’t think so but I can see the reasons why others may beg to differ.
I’d made peace with Rooney leaving a long time ago, even after he kissed the United badge whilst dancing along the Gwladys Street, which was admittedly a very tough moment to watch.
But far from hailing his return to Everton should he decide that’s where he wants to see out the remainder of his playing days, I’m against Rooney pulling on a Blue jersey regardless of the player he once was.
Since his ambiguous comments come to light earlier this week, I’ve seen plenty of people saying they want him back for a number of reasons that I don’t believe fit with what the club is trying to do this summer.
One reason that people seem to argue is the fact Rooney is an improvement on what Everton already have in their first-team ranks. “He’s better than (insert player(s) name here) so we’d be daft not to have him back.” Come on. Really? The fact that it’s true doesn’t make it a valid answer. Are there not plenty of players who the club could feasibly go and get this summer that are better than what we already have? It’s really not that difficult when you consider Arouna Kone was getting game time towards the end of the season, so I’m not really buying that one.
Secondly, it’s argued that Rooney still has plenty to offer despite Jose Mourinho deeming him a squad player for the sixth-best side in the Premier League. If you’ve watched him in any great detail this season, you can see why he’s struggled to start games at Old Trafford, let alone finish them. He started 15 league games in the season gone and completed a full 90 minutes on just six occasions.
Those statistics may do him a disservice given how he’s been deployed in a variety of positions under Mourinho, but I don’t think you can question his influence in games is nowhere near what it used to be, but more importantly I think Everton need more from an attacking player.
It’s often pointed out that Rooney is a winner and he would bring a winning mentality to the club which is something that has been desperately needed. Whilst I agree on that point and a greater winner you’d struggle to find, I don’t think it would have as much of an impact as we would like given the fact he can no longer supplement it with the performances we were accustomed to seeing a few years ago.
I think as Evertonians we’re so desperate to see one of our own succeed in a Blue shirt that we’d welcome back someone who might well have been that person had things worked out differently. Therefore it leads me to ask: Would you want Wayne Rooney back if he wasn’t an Evertonian or a local lad? If you’re honest with yourself, I don’t think you’d even consider him as a potential Everton target, particularly given the ageing players already at the club.
Like it or not, we are a sentimental football club. There’s nothing wrong with that and it’s something to be proud of in many ways as long as it influences everything we do in a positive way. That has not always been the case, has it? You could argue it’s something that has often held the club back- not being ruthless enough, a soft underbelly – call it what you will. I’m as sentimental as it gets as I hope the opening of this piece indicates, but I’m aware Everton need a seismic shift in both mentality and sentimentality to put the club back to where it once was. I don’t see the signing a player who left more than a decade ago and whose best playing days are definitely behind him as being part of that.
The 15-year old kid who watched Rooney destroy Arsenal’s unbeaten run with one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen live, is screaming at me inside my head. I won’t lie, I’ll be delighted for a while if he comes home – that’s until we see he isn’t everything we want or need him to be.
That in a nutshell is an issue for many Evertonians; our love for our own and who we are conflicts with what would actually be best for us.