x

Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 June 2018

Lumbering Rooney fails to fire on return

Former England captain's second coming to his boyhood club ends without inspiration, goals or answers about his future 

Wayne Rooney looked off-the-pace during his return to Everton and European football. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND
Wayne Rooney looked off-the-pace during his return to Everton and European football. EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

Everton’s lost boy, Wayne Rooney, returned to his beloved blue shirt in a performance that scarcely gave succour to the fans who wished he had stayed at the club during the 13 years he wore the hated red - of Manchester United, if not sworn rivals Liverpool.

He was selected to start in the Europa League qualifying stage against Ružomberok of Slovakia, but his debut failed to ignite many fans’ excitement.

He wore the number 10 that was his at Old Trafford and for England, and he walked out to a general wave of applause as he took the kick off.

But the 31-year-old immediately looked off the pace, despite facing European minor league opposition. Five minutes passed before he became involved in an attack.

He tried to become involved at some stage in everything that went through Everton, but even when they were vibrant in the first half you felt there was a corporate-enforced rule that the players had to pass to Rooney.

It all played out in front of a sparsely-attended crowd at Goodison Park to acclaim the returning warrior.

There were moments of tenacity: he fought for every ball and he was a tiger when any chance came close. But there were few moments to suggest he would score the goal that would satisfy the sponsors and the storyline – and allow him to be benched so the younger generation could get on with showcasing Everton’s new style of free-flowing football.

His display didn’t seem to fit into how the rest of his predominantly young team plays. He never seemed to be there when balls went spare and just seemed to slow his colleagues down, with late and lumbering tackles.

When goal chances came, they fell to his teammates. A mobile Everton side didn’t seem to need whatever Wayne Rooney was supposed to bring to the side. He appeared to represent an aimless passion, a terrible belief in the very worst of English football, which a boss as modern and forward-thinking as Ronald Koeman is unlikely to think he needs in an Everton side he is rebuilding in the image of Ajax.

It’s not impossible that we won’t see this titan of British football for much longer on a serious football stage, and it’s sad that the deal that moved Rooney to Everton treats a genuinely legend as a makeweight in a grubby corporate engagement.

Everton secured the 1-0 win through a deflected Leighton Baines shot from 20 yards. The Merseysiders continued to push for a larger lead to take to Slovakia next week but failed to breach the away side's staunch defence.