London: On the day Wayne Rooney completed an emotional return to Goodison Park, he revealed his love for his boyhood team meant he had worn Everton pyjamas even when Manchester United captain.
Rooney rejected more lucrative contracts from China and the United States in order to “go home” and his return to Everton is a reminder that he never stopped supporting the club, even after his high-profile move to United in 2004. It is understood Rooney, who had one year left on his United contract, has also taken a significant pay cut on his earnings at Old Trafford because he was so determined to play again for the club that launched his Premier League career when he was a precociously gifted 16-year-old.
Sources close to the player have claimed he wanted to make sure his three sons saw him play in Everton blue before he retired and, having finally ended a 13-year career at United, Rooney made a startling confession. “I’ve kept it quiet for the last 13 years, but I’ve actually been wearing Everton pyjamas at home with my kids,” Rooney said.
“I had to keep that a bit quiet It’s great. [Wearing the Everton shirt] feels as special as it did 13 years ago and I’m just looking forward now to getting out on the pitch with it on.”
Although some will question why Everton have worked so hard to re-sign a player they sold for £27 million (Dh128 million) and who is in the twilight of his career, Ronald Koeman, the club’s manager, insisted he was convinced the England international still had much to offer, both on and off the pitch.
Rooney’s critics have suggested he is a fading force after a flat final season on the fringes of the first team at United, but that will not sour the move for anyone on the blue half of Merseyside. Certainly, the former England captain, who has signed a two-year contract, made no attempt to mask his excitement at his homecoming.
“It’s a great feeling to be back,” added Rooney, who scored 17 goals in 77 games in his first spell at Goodison Park.
“It is some time since I said that the only Premier League club I would play for other than Manchester United was Everton, so I am delighted that the move has happened.
“I cannot wait to meet the lads, get on the training pitch and then get on the pitch to play. I’m ecstatic. I’m not just coming back because it’s the team I support, the team I grew up playing for — I’m coming back because I feel the club can move forward and be successful.
“I want to be part of it. There will be pressure on me to perform, but I’m ready to go. I believe I can help move this club forward and be more successful on the pitch.”
The move, though, would not have happened if Koeman had not supported the idea. Although chairman Bill Kenwright has openly admitted he is a “romantic” when it comes to football, the Dutchman is not prone to making decisions based on emotion.
Koeman is building a young team at Everton and, having met Rooney to discuss his plans last week, he was convinced he is not signing a player who merely wants to postpone retirement in the comfort of familiar surroundings. “He has shown me that ambition that we need and that winning mentality — he knows how to win titles and I’m really happy he’s decided to come home,” said Koeman.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2017