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When Wayne Rooney left Everton for Manchester United in a £27m deal in August 2004, he was departing a club wracked by financial crisis and low on optimism.
Then 18, he went on to enjoy a stellar Old Trafford career, eclipsing Sir Bobby Charlton as United’s record scorer with 253 goals as well as winning five Premier League titles, the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup and three League Cups.
Rooney returns to Goodison Park as a different player and man – but is also rejoining a vastly different club to the one he left behind almost 13 years ago.
Everton, under major shareholder Farhad Moshiri, are now fiercely ambitious, having spent more than £90m on five players before Rooney’s arrival, with more to come.
So how have Everton put together such a grand, bold plan to invade the top four? And what part will the 31-year-old play in it?
The reinvention of Everton
Everton’s fortunes switched from the moment British-Iranian businessman Moshiri sold his 15% share in Arsenal to business partner Alisher Usmanov and bought a 49.9% stake in the club in February 2016.
The first indicator Everton’s standards were now higher and more demanding came with the dismissal of manager Roberto Martinez three months after Moshiri’s arrival, with the team 12th in the Premier League.
Ronald Koeman was instantly identified as first choice and was successfully lured from Southampton with the promise of heavy financial backing and handsome rewards.
Last summer’s transfer window was ultimately frustrating, despite the arrivals of Ashley Williams from Swansea City for £12m, and £25m Yannick Bolasie from Crystal Palace, plus the success of the £7m signing from Aston Villa, Idrissa Gueye.
Everton had been saddled with a reputation, unfair or otherwise, of either dragging out deals interminably, leaving them too late or missing out altogether. A muddled strategy last summer was reflected by a sudden, not to mention mystifying, £30m offer for Newcastle United midfielder Moussa Sissoko in the final hours before the transfer window closed, an expensive bullet dodged when Tottenham stole the deal away from them moments before the deadline.
All that has changed, especially after a fraught news conference following the FA Cup third-round exit at home to Leicester City in January.
Koeman, a ruthless and focused individual who occasionally appears like he would not even take “yes” for an answer, seemed visibly frustrated by the failure to get a £24m deal for Manchester United midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin over the line.
Schneiderlin was signed within days and it seems the lesson was learned to stunning effect. Transfer targets have been identified well in advance and signed with an almost chilling efficiency since the end of the season.
Everton agreed a £30m deal to sign goalkeeper Jordan Pickford from Sunderland, then flew a delegation out to England’s Under-21 camp in Poland within 24 hours to conclude a medical and the formalities. The £24m signing of Ajax captain Davy Klaassen was announced hours after Pickford’s.
The pursuit of Malaga’s coveted Spain Under-21 striker Sandro Ramirez was carefully planned, with Koeman paying a visit and the details again being ironed out behind closed doors, a la Pickford, at the Spanish camp in Poland.
Burnley defender Michael Keane was a long-term target. And Everton outflanked a reported 47 clubs to sign 20-year-old Nigeria striker Henry Onyekuru from Belgian side KAS Eupen before loaning him to Anderlecht for 12 months.
Moshiri’s finances and vision – which is also behind Everton’s proposed new stadium at Bramley Moore on the Mersey waterfront – plus Koeman’s edgy, single-minded outlook, have reinvented the club in the space of 18 months.
Former player Kevin Ratcliffe, Everton’s most successful captain, told the BBC: “It is so unlike us to be doing business very, very early and doing it without selling players first. It is usually just a few days before the deadline but now Everton can prepare with these new players.”
Everton ambassador and former player Ian Snodin added: “The club have gone out and targeted people during the season and have produced.
“Usually we are waiting on deadline day to see who we are signing on loan but the club has put its money where its mouth is in spending almost £100m and it is fantastic.
“Every Evertonian is buzzing. Farhad Moshiri is a wealthy, wealthy man and he wants Everton competing in the top four and for titles. Everton is not content competing for sixth, seventh and eighth any more. It is about competing for top places.”
Even the expected departure of top scorer Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United in a deal that could end up being worth about £90m has failed to dent the rampant optimism.
Lukaku will be a major loss, but this is offset with the conviction that Everton are no longer selling to buy – and the knowledge the vast cheque landing from Old Trafford will simply be handed to Koeman to reinvest.
And to add to the confidence in Everton’s future, the club had four members of England’s starting line-up in the Under-20 World Cup final victory against Venezuela this summer, including match-winner Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
‘We don’t want to be a museum. We need to win’
Moshiri’s Everton reign has been confined to actions rather than words – but in one brief public appearance he uttered a phrase that will be the watchwords for Rooney and the club’s future.
Speaking at Everton’s general meeting in January, he said: “It is not enough to say we are special and that we are a great club. We don’t want to be a museum. We need to win.”
So for all the marketing opportunities and profile that Rooney will bring, he will be expected to remember that message.
Rooney may be viewed as a museum piece and curiosity by some these days. Everton, in contrast, hope he can provide the “X-factor”.
And Koeman, who raised eyebrows when he registered public interest in Rooney last season, is not a personality given to romantic notions of the returning legend or sporting sentimentality.
He will expect Rooney to make his full contribution. Everton will not regard this as a nostalgic farewell tour. Koeman is not interested in signing marketing tools – he believes he is getting a hugely intelligent footballer with something to offer.
Rooney’s vast experience, acquired over 631 club games, will be expected to provide leadership as well as the fighting mentality Everton lacked on occasions last season.
Rooney may not feature regularly in an area of the pitch where Everton could play teenager Tom Davies, Klaassen or even Ross Barkley behind a striker – but Koeman will look to the former England and Manchester United captain to provide moments of enduring quality that he still possesses.
Snodin said: “He’s not as dynamic as he was five years ago but he will bring something to the party.
“Everton have got some very exciting young players and he will give those young kids in the dressing room a real lift. Playing alongside Wayne Rooney, just being educated on the training ground and on the pitch, will do them the world of good. For me, it’s a no-brainer.”
Ratcliffe said: “My only question is ‘where will he play?’ I am not sure he is better than what we have got. We are talking about playing a high-pressure game at Everton but I don’t think Wayne can play that way now.
“He is still a fantastic player but when you have got Tom Davies, Morgan Schneiderlin, Idrissa Gueye and Davy Klaassen in there, he is going to be finding it hard, with that energy and those players, to break into the side.”
Could he yet play in a striker’s role in Koeman’s new-look Everton?
Former Everton midfielder Leon Osman told BBC Sport: “I don’t know if he is a direct replacement for Lukaku but it shows where Everton are. He would be able to give them real strength in depth.
“Everton have shown all summer they can compete to sign players and that’s really great for the club moving forward. They will have a lot more games with the European adventure they are going on and it will be interesting to see how the league mixes with that.”
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and England boss Gareth Southgate clearly feel they can do without Rooney, but Koeman believes the spark is still there.
He said: “In my opinion he is one of the players who can make Everton stronger and every player we think can make the team stronger is welcome at Everton.”
Koeman’s theory is about to be put to the test.
|The return of Rooney|
|Made his debut for Everton on 17 August 2002 aged 16|
|Scored against Arsenal on 19 October – at the time it made him the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history [16 years, 360 days]|
|Spent two seasons in the first team at Goodison before joining Man Utd for £25.6m|
|While at Everton Rooney made his England debut – against Australia on 12 February 2003, aged 17 years, 111 days|
Rooney’s move to Everton is about revival, renewal and some unfinished business from a boyhood fan who never truly lost his love of the club.
He had a low-key conclusion to his Manchester United career, with just five league goals last season – but this is the move he will have wanted to reignite his career after a fallow period.
Rooney made it clear the only Premier League club he wanted to play for apart from Manchester United was Everton and the idea of being part of a new era and attempting to land the club’s first trophy since 1995 will appeal to his winning mentality.
He only had one full season as a first-team player at Everton. The close connection has remained and his thirst for success will be greater at Goodison Park than anywhere else at this late stage of his career.
“Wayne’s still an Evertonian, his kids are Everton fans,” said Snodin. “Playing for Everton will give him an extra lift.”
And, in the back of his mind, Rooney will still believe that if he can start well with Everton and show he still possesses that match-winning touch, he could yet force his way back into Southgate’s plans.
‘Once A Blue Always A Blue’
Rooney had to cope with many seasons of hostility when returning to Goodison Park with United move. Supporters were upset that the player, who sported a “Once A Blue Always A Blue” T-shirt after scoring in the 2002 FA Youth Cup final against Aston Villa, could leave with greatness awaiting him.
The icy relationship has thawed almost totally in recent years, with Rooney restating how much Everton means to him and even being spotted attending games at Goodison Park with his family.
And when he returned to wear an Everton shirt once more for ex-Toffees striker Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial in 2015, he was very warmly received by chairman Bill Kenwright pitchside, by supporters when his name was read out, and also backstage at the stadium. Goodison Park once again looked like Rooney’s natural home.
The doubts about Rooney now do not come from any lingering sense of betrayal but over his ability to recreate some of those explosive early impressions.
Snodin said: “I know the fans will be split because a lot have got memories of when Wayne left and are still a bit upset but I would take him back tomorrow. If he starts performing they will forget that and get behind Wayne Rooney.”
Small steps to the title?
Koeman is determined to sign Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, despite his £40m price tag, and all this summer’s activity is aimed at reaching the top four.
Could it bring even bigger success in the years ahead, such as the Premier League title itself?
Osman says: “Over the next few years that is certainly the aim. Steps are being taken to hopefully achieve that in the future.
“Barring the miracle of Leicester City, it’s usually achieved in slow steps. It’s great to see Everton are on the ladder.”
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