Bittersweet Rooney Departure To The MLS Would Signal Change In Strategy from Everton
Given his time with Everton and England, Sam Allardyce is perhaps uniquely placed in the game to give an insight into the veritable circus that follows Wayne Rooney wherever he goes.
Whatever is happening in the striker's footballing career at any one particular moment in time, it seems as though a front or back page headline is just around the corner. So much so that even in this most chaotic of seasons at club level - Everton have had three managers in just over six months and anger has often spilled over on the terraces- the main glare of both the national and international media remains focused on the future of the 32-year-old beyond this summer. For some time now, Rooney has been linked with a move away from his boyhood club during the close season, with speculation heightening of late as the start of the transfer window draws into focus.
“The Wayne Rooney saga continues on doesn’t it? I experienced the Wayne Rooney saga in my short period of time with the England camp, and it’s all: ‘Why is Wayne Rooney doing this, why is he doing that,’ Allardyce said recently when asked about Rooney's future.
“It’s all very similar here. When Wayne Rooney comes off it’s all: ‘Why did he come off?’ Wayne in himself, on a day to day basis, loves his football, he loves training, he wants to play and play well like everybody else."
Allardyce knows that no other Everton player comes close to garnering the same amount of interest as Rooney, which is why despite his clearly fading powers, talk of a switch away from L4 is still big news both on Merseyside and much further afield.
And so, the latest reports claiming that a deal has been agreed in principal to take the veteran forward to MLS side DC United at the end of the current season have provoked widespread discussion as to whether the Blues would be right to sanction any deal.
Here, context is everything. 11 goals before the turn of the year gave the impression that there was much more to come from the summer signing. Rather than fading into obscurity as some had expected following his slump at Manchester United, Rooney was actively influencing games to the point where had Evertonians been asked about his future in the January window, there would almost certainly have been a majority in favour of retaining his services. There was light and shade, especially in his on-pitch relationship with Gylfi Sigurdsson, but on the whole this appeared to be confirmation that a return to Merseyside had sparked something latent in the veteran.
After countless important goals and memorable moments - including a winner at Goodison Park on against Stoke on debut and an equaliser from the spot at Anfield - the Croxteth-born star also contributed to keeping Everton's head above the parapet in an opening half of the season that contained the lingering threat of relegation. That the Blues have comfortably avoided that threat is thanks in no small part to his efforts before the turn of the year.
2018, though, has followed a vastly different course. No goals or assists since Christmas tells its own story, while attempts to repackage himself as a midfielder have prompted mixed success at best. It now seems patently apparent that even putting his toils over the past five months down to fatigue, Rooney is no longer Everton's best option in any of the three roles he has occupied so far this campaign.
An inhibiting influence on record signing Sigurdsson, the 32-year-old also lacks the physicality and movement to play ahead of Cenk Tosun as the lone striker and the positional discipline and energy to feature ahead of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gueye in the engine room.
For someone who must still be struggling to come to terms with his body slowing down at the top level, this must be particularly hard to take. Accordingly, keeping Rooney on-side and finding a suitable context for him across a whole season - not just in games against sides who sit deep and don't pressure the ball - will remain a conundrum for Everton as long as he stays at the club.
Indeed, seeing Rooney toil in big games against Manchester City and Liverpool in recent months has put all of this into sharp focus. As elite level players comfortably passed the ball around him in the centre of the park, we were reminded of just how far he has fallen from that level. The symbolism was clear: Rooney's Everton were not anywhere near being able to go toe-to-toe with those above them - despite an outlay of over £200 million - and the end result was emphatic defeat for a club that has this season meekly accepted its place in the pre-existing hierarchy.
It's why the ex-England captain was a decidedly odd choice as poster boy for the 'new Everton' under Farhad Moshiri and Co. The aim of challenging the top-six by largely recruiting players on their way down was always deeply flawed in essence.
As such, the sanctioning of any move to the US would effectively see the Blues admitting the error of their ways. Instead of continuing to be governed by sentiment and celebrity, Rooney's departure, together with the expected arrival of a new director of football in Dutchman Marcel Brands, would hint at a move towards unearthing players whose stars are on the rise in the modern game. Equally, the growing uncertainty over Allardyce's own future is yet another indication that a 'rip it up and start again' approach may well be in the offing this summer.
Some have erroneously suggested that Rooney's fate is entirely linked to his manager's this summer - rumours of differences in opinion have been rife of late - yet the obvious point to make is that under those touted to replace Allardyce, the attacker may have even less chance of featuring. Current favourites Marco Silva and Paulo Fonseca, for example, both favour hold-up play from a powerful lone striker and fast, intricate interplay in midfield. Quite how Rooney fits into this vision is anyone's guess.
It has thus been no surprise to see stories not just of DC United's interest, but also Rooney's apparent discontent at Goodison over the past few days. Walking before being pushed is far easier for the childhood Blue to stomach than the alternative, after all - and he may even know that the only way from here personally at Goodison is down. Saving face by moving now seems the logical next step from all concerned.
There have been positive memories for just about all to savour over the past 12 months, and it would certainly be grossly unfair to write the stint off as a complete failure - but a bittersweet, emotional departure now looks like the best option for both Rooney and Everton.