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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Wayne Rooney and Bertrand Traore, a career of contrasts in the overused and underused

Fifteen years on from the goal that announced Rooney's arrival, the 31-year-old Rooney, much like Everton, looks out of steam as Traore aims to make up for lost minutes with Lyon

Wayne Rooney, left, has packed much into a decade and a half of top-flight football since scoring as a 16 year old against Arsenal. Lee Smith / Reuters
Wayne Rooney, left, has packed much into a decade and a half of top-flight football since scoring as a 16 year old against Arsenal. Lee Smith / Reuters

It was 15 years ago that Wayne Rooney announced himself as the treasure of Goodison Park. The goal remains one of the most celebrated of the 201 - and counting - he has scored in the Premier League.

It was his first, and equally special was the way he plucked a high ball from the air, snared it on a raised toe, turned to face a goal at some 25 yards distance, and arched his shot beyond the stretch of the Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman.

Theatre enough that the goal turned a 1-1 draw into an Everton victory, and in stoppage time. More dramatic that this was an Arsenal on a unbeaten run of 30 matches. Above all, the joyous shock factor that this poised, daring finish came from the boot of a boy six days shy of his 17th birthday.

So much has been packed into the decade and a half since it can still seem a surprise that Rooney, the finest English footballer of his generation, is only 31. It can also seem an age since he rejoined Everton in the summer, after 13 years at Manchester United.

After the hope ignited by another audaciously struck goal on his first Premier League appearance at Goodison in Everton’s blue since his teens, a match-winner against Stoke City, the club wheezed towards the wrong end of the table. They prepare to host Lyon on Thursday in jeopardy in the Europa League, too, with one draw from their two group games.

Rooney may have contributed the goals that directly account for five of Everton’s scant eight league points so far, but in a team falling short of expectation, the imperfections of a player with 650 senior club matches on his bodyclock are inevitably scrutinised.

This Rooney is not the zippy 16 year old. Nor is he Romelu Lukaku, whose 25 goals for Everton in the last Premier League season persuaded United they wanted Lukaku a great deal more than they any longer wanted Rooney.

Lyon have their own version of post-Lukaku loss. They sold Alex Lacazette, a prolific marksman, to Arsenal in the summer. Among the young forwards recruited in his place was Bertrand Traore. Troare is no Rooney, but he understands the downsides of being an ex-prodigy. He has suffered not the burdens of overuse, but the opposite.

Bertrand Traore, centre, seen here playing for his country Burkina Faso in a recent 2018 World Cup qualifier, is now on the books of French club Lyon. Phill Magakoe / AFP
Bertrand Traore, centre, seen here playing for his country Burkina Faso in a recent 2018 World Cup qualifier, is now on the books of French club Lyon. Phill Magakoe / AFP

Traore made his international debut, for Burkina Faso, three days before his 16th birthday. He was already on the radar of Chelsea, who signed him in his teens. And then? A slow escalator to the top.

He joined the vast army of young Chelsea hopefuls loaned out around Europe – he made a good impression at Vitesse Arnhem in the Netherlands – and saw a road-block ahead.

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Richard Jolly: Everton continue to suffer due to lack of a set system

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“When you are at Chelsea and things are not going well,” Traore told this reporter recently, “it is hard for coaches to change the team and put young players in. I needed more minutes.”

Traore had turned 20 when he played his first few minutes in the Premier League in 2015/16. He was loaned to Ajax last season, and found himself taking on a senior role – “I had leadership” – in the young team that thrillingly progressed to a Europa League final, where they lost to United captained by the outgoing Rooney.

Lyon liked what they saw, and Traore saw the chance to make up for lost time.

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