Homecomings aren’t always sweet. Perhaps there is a reason why the saying goes, ‘you should never go back in life’.
The expression shouldn’t probably apply to football, given nothing quite compares to the Beautiful Game. But, it feels as though it carries more credence in the case of Wayne Rooney.
After 13 years at Manchester United, in which he had become the club’s record goalscorer, his powers had waned substantially to the point where he could not justify his role in the side from the start, nor his status as the highest-earning player at Old Trafford.
A return to Everton, the club he and his family called home and where it all started had always been touted at some stage. It was almost written in the stars that he would wear royal blue again.
And, so it happened. Last summer, Rooney arrived back at Goodison Park in a move which seemingly suited and benefitted all parties.
For the 32-year-old, he was able to continue his Premier League career and stay rooted in the north west. He had other and more lucrative offers, and despite having to reduce his weekly wage by around 40 per cent, the infamous ‘Once a Blue, always a Blue’ hold on him was all too much.
The fairytale was complete. Plenty of water had passed under the bridge since he left Everton as a teenager in the summer of 2004, all had been forgotten between him and the supporters.
This was a chance for a man to reignite a career that had gone stale, despite the history he lays claim to, at domestic and international level.
For Everton, re-signing Rooney was sentimental for long-time chairman Bill Kenwright and a marquee name to support majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri’s ultimate project, in which, to this day, millions have been lavished, but little football substance or on-the-pitch rewards have bared any fruit.
Perhaps Rooney was sold a failed dream about why he should come back? The evidence suggests he might have been. Moshiri’s two-and-a-half year reign with the Merseysiders has not been dull nor successful aside from much-needed investment behind the scenes.
Over £200m was largely wasted in the 2017 summer transfer window, with the failed reigns of managers Ronald Koeman and Sam Allardyce attesting to that.
Allardyce was perhaps the reason why Rooney’s current and progressive talks with DC United over an imminent transfer began in the first place.
He was substituted a club-record 24 times this past season – a quite staggering statistic even though Rooney often petered out at around the hour-mark in most games he started. Rooney had simply not seen eye to eye with a man who he also played under once during his ill-fated time as England boss.
Rooney’s second coming at Goodison hasn’t been a disaster. He finished the season as the club’s top goalscorer with 11 goals, picked up Everton’s Goal of the Season and Individual Performance awards for his hat-trick against West Ham in December and realised a dream by scoring an equaliser against Liverpool in a Merseyside Derby.
However, that all came in the first-half of the season when the novelty was still strong, for Evertonians at least, of having him back.
It also took a while for the message to filter through that Rooney’s best days were simply behind him.
In 2018, he failed to score or register a single assist (he only managed two all season, level with the heavily derided Cuco Martina) and was dispossessed more times than any other Everton player (57) throughout the campaign.
Having started the season as a forward in a team lacking pace, creativity or ingenuity, his season finished in central midfield with ghost showings against Manchester City and Liverpool at home. Stat-selecting to purely back up a point can be harsh and it does have to be said Rooney was far from the worst Everton player during 2017-18.
It is time though for Everton to move on from him – despite the fact he has one more year remaining on his contract – look to the future and sign more players akin to that Jordan Pickford, the likely England No.1 in Russia. This approach will surely be adopted by Everton’s new Director of Football Marcel Brands.
A switch to the MLS, following the likes of other England stars who have done just that in the past decade such as David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard, should suit Rooney.
He does still possess the technical ability to influence games, particularly when the pace and ultimately quality of proceedings in the MLS Eastern Conference is still way behind that of the English top-flight.
On July 14, the Washington-based side open a new home stadium – conveniently coming four days after the 2018 MLS transfer window springs into life. Rooney would be the perfect man to unveil that.
Fulham edged a nervy Championship playoff final, beating Aston Villa 1-0 to seal promotion to the Premier League.
Ryan Sessegnon was the star again, producing a moment of brilliance to set up Tom Cairney for the only goal of the game.
Here’s a look at how all the players fared at Wembley on Saturday.
Sam Johnstone: Little he could do to stop Cairney’s opening goal after being left exposed by his defence, 6 (out of 10).
Ahmed Elmohamady: Wariness of the threat posed by Sessegnon meant he rarely got forward, 5.
James Chester: Booked early on for a challenge on Mitrovic, but thereafter defended soundly, 6.
John Terry: Rarely confronted with the head-to-head battle on which he so regularly thrives, 6.
Alan Hutton: Did not do enough to prevent Fulham’s threat on the right, and perhaps fortunate not to concede a penalty with his challenge on Kamara, 5.
Mile Jedinak: Lack of pace was often exposed when Fulham broke from midfield, 5.
Conor Hourihane: Went close with a curling effort during a period of pressure early in the second half, 6.
Albert Adomah: Struggled to get into the game when his pace should have been an asset, 6.
Jack Grealish: Missed his team’s best chance of the first half, as well as two further promising ones in the second, 7.
Robert Snodgrass: Unable to make the difference, despite possessing the talent, 6.
Lewis Grabban: Consistently appeared isolated, and therefore did little to trouble Fulham’s defence, 5.
Jonathan Kodjia (for Elmohamady, 77mins): An attacking substitute who ultimately had little impact, 5.
Josh Onomah (for Jedinak, 77mins): Provided pace but in the time he played, little else, 5.
Scott Hogan (for Hourihane, 82mins): Did not get the goalscoring chance he required, 5.
Marcus Bettinelli: Produced a fine save to deny Grealish at 1-0 up in the second half. 8.
Ryan Fredericks: Attacking threat often forced Grealish to defend and abandon his attacking instincts, 7.
Tim Ream: A calm presence in a defence that was under consistent pressure throughout the second half, 7.
Denis Odoi: Produced a potentially-crucial block from Grabban’s close-range shot but dismissal following a second yellow invited pressure, 5.
Matt Targett: Unusually offered little going forward, largely because of Villa’s second-half response, 6.
Kevin McDonald: Midfielder provided the discipline his team required as they sought to stretch Villa, 7.
Stefan Johansen: Wasted a fine chance to put Fulham 2-0 up, settle their nerves and arrest Villa’s momentum, 6.
Tom Cairney: His composed finish gave his team the lead they deserved and provided the platform for victory, 8.
Aboubakar Kamara: Came close to scoring, at 0-0, with a promising chance he created for himself, and was unfortunate not to be rewarded with a goal, 6.
Ryan Sessegnon: Again demonstrated his potential and vision with the superb through-ball that created Cairney’s opening goal, 8.
Aleksandar Mitrovic: Did well to hold the ball up against an experienced defence, and drew the challenge from which Chester was booked, 7.
Oliver Norwood (for Johansen, 72mins): Brilliant, late challenge denied Hourihane from a dangerous position, 8.
Tomas Kalas (for Kamara, 77mins): Brought on to defend and ensure Fulham retained their lead, 6.
Cyrus Christie (for Fredericks, 83mins): Had too little time to make a significant impact, 5.
Fulham are back in the big time after winning a thrilling Championship play-off final against Aston Villa, with Tom Cairney ending their four-year Premier League absence in a pulsating encounter.
Saturday may be the day of the Champions League final but the financial implications of the second-tier showpiece – worth at least £160million of additional revenue to the victor – dwarfs the Kiev showpiece.
Fulham were favourites with the bookmakers – and perhaps the neutrals – on their first trip to Wembley since 1975, and emerged 1-0 winners against Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa after clinging onto Cairney’s first-half strike,
Denis Odoi’s sending off 20 minutes from time led to a jittery end for Slavisa Jokanovic’s Whites, but they dug deep to secure the biggest financial prize in world football on a day to cherish.
The decisive blow came midway through the first half as Fulham offered a glimpse of the football that has earned so many plaudits this term, with 18-year-old Ryan Sessegnon superbly threading through Cairney to fire home.
Villa looked ripe for the taking as skipper John Terry struggled but Bruce, a man who knows a thing or two about promotion, got them firing in the second half.
Jack Grealish was a constant thorn in the side and saw a mazy run ended by a fine stop, before being taken down by a clumsy Odoi challenge that led to a second yellow card and an anxious conclusion.
Yet Fulham showed grit to match their skill to win and leave Villa, on the 36th anniversary of their European Cup triumph, facing another season in the Championship – and the financial ramifications that brings.