LONDON, July 10: Wayne Rooney no longer has to hide his nighttime secret.
Although the striker left Everton in 2004 in pursuit of glory with Manchester United, the affection for his boyhood club never truly diminished — even while winning every major honor in European soccer with United and becoming the all-time leading scorer for English soccer’s biggest club.
A reunion with Everton was mooted for years and it finally came on Sunday. The 31-year-old Rooney completed an emotional return across northwest England by signing a two-year contract at Goodison Park.
“I’ve kept it quiet for the last 13 years,” Rooney said, “but I’ve actually been wearing Everton pyjamas at home with my kids. I had to keep that a bit quiet.
“It’s a great feeling to be back. I’m excited, I cannot wait to meet the lads, get on the training pitch and then get on the pitch to play. I’m ecstatic.”
Rooney always maintained that Everton was the only other Premier League club he could contemplate playing for after United.
Everton, though, is not welcoming back a player as energetic and dangerous in front as goal as the precocious teenager who left in 2004. In the twilight of his career, Rooney is only available after dropping out of both the United and England teams he captained.
Rooney’s hunger for the game, however, has never diminished. And after having to accept a reduced status over the last year for club and country, a return to Everton signals a fresh start. It could even help Rooney regain his England place in time for the World Cup next June and extend his England goal record of 53.
Rooney will now be a central figure once again in an Everton team that is looking to break the Premier League’s elite under coach Ronald Koeman.
“I have come back to Everton because I believe Ronald Koeman is building a team that can win something,” Rooney said, “and I look forward to playing my part in making that a reality for the club I have supported since a boy.”
Everton is on the verge of selling Romelu Lukaku to United but has signed goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, center back Michael Keane, midfielder Davy Klaassen and striker Sandro Ramirez this offseason.
Everton’s majority shareholder since February 2016, Iranian-British businessman Farhad Moshiri, wants to take the team higher than last season’s sixth place. Silverware is the target for a club whose last major trophy came with the 1995 FA Cup and won the ninth of its topflight titles in 1987.
“Wayne has shown me that ambition that we need and that winning mentality,” Koeman said. “He knows how to win titles and I’m really happy he’s decided to come home. He loves Everton and he was desperate to come back. He is still only 31 and I don’t have any doubts about his qualities. It’s fantastic he’s here.”
Rooney scored a record 253 goals for United after moving from Everton for 27 million pounds as an 18-year-old in 2004, winning the Premier League title five times, the FA Cup once, the League Cup three times, the Champions League once and the Europa League last season.
“Thirteen years ago I went to United with the intention of winning trophies,” Rooney said, “and I have been fortunate to be a part of one of the most successful periods in the club’s history.”
In Rooney’s final season — Jose Mourinho’s first in charge — the United captain only started 15 league games.
“He has been a model professional throughout his time at the club and will remain in the history books for many years to come,” Mourinho said. “It is never easy to see a great player playing less football than he would like and I could not stand in his way when he asked to go back to Everton. His experience, focus and determination will be missed and I wish him well for the future.”
Rooney did not quite reach the heights expected of him when he was arguably at the top of his game in the 2009-10 season, at that time playing at a level comparable to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Rooney’s spell at United was also tarnished among sections of fans when he sought to leave the club in 2010 and again at the end of the 2012-13 season, clashing with then-manager Alex Ferguson both times.
Rooney was convinced to stay in 2013 by Ferguson’s immediate successor, David Moyes, at a time when the forward was still in big demand. Rooney departs United as a peripheral figure but he will still go down as one of the club’s greatest players of the modern era. And he has a chance now to cement his status in Everton folklore.
“(Goodison) has always been a special place, even when I’ve been on the opposing team,” Rooney said. “You always get that feeling when you walk out of the tunnel so to actually do it again in an Everton shirt will be a special moment for me.”