Rooney enjoying a renaissance

Author: Jonathan WilsonFri, 2017-12-22 03:00ID: 1513972779683688200LONDON: Wayne Rooney is the joint-fourth highest goalscorer in the Premier League this season, one of only two players to have hit double figures 18 games in. It’s true that three of those have been penalties, and one a penalty that was saved and then converted on the rebound but, still, that’s a far better return than many anticipated when he returned to Everton at the beginning of the season. There have also been four assists. Rooney is playing well and, more than that, is transparently enjoying his football again.Which has led, inevitably, to suggestions that he should never have left Manchester United. Those comments have grown ever louder as Romelu Lukaku has struggled to impose himself on big games. Were United hasty? Would they be better off with Rooney leading the line. To which the only answer is, no, of course not. Remember the last two seasons. Remember how he seemed to slow the game down, whether playing as a forward or in midfield. Was there a major United game Rooney imposed himself on? Not recently.What works in one environment will not necessarily work in another. It’s obviously impossible to know how Rooney would have fared had he stayed at United but this seems like a case of a transfer that’s worked for everybody. United got him off the books and so they’re now able to perm two from Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford without all the questions and all the scrutiny that comes for any side leaving Rooney out.Rooney, meanwhile, got to return to his boyhood club. He got to experience the acclaim of the fans of which he was once a part. If he hadn’t gone back to Everton, there would always have been a doubt in his mind as to whether his decision to leave for Old Trafford in 2004 had ever been forgiven. That doubt is there no longer. Each goal, each good performance, each bead of sweat, pays off some of whatever emotional debt was left.He looks younger, fresher, lither. He is only 32 but he had always seemed old for his age. In part that was put down to body type — for all the doubts about his lifestyle, he could have spent as much time in the gym as Cristiano Ronaldo and still had a slightly doughy aspect — and in part the sheer weight of football he has played, yet swapping a red shirt for a blue seems to have taken the years off him. There is a freedom and a joy about his play.Perhaps that’s down to a release of pressure — and giving up playing for England must help in that regard — or perhaps it’s more about how sides tend to set up against Everton, giving him more space. Perhaps it’s something more primal than that and returning to Everton has reminded Rooney of the joy football used to bring him. Certainly he looks happier than he has for a long time.His goal from inside his own half against West Ham was the strike of somebody elevated by confidence: he was prepared to take the risk of looking foolish and he hit the ball with great power and accuracy. It doesn’t matter to anything other than the aesthetic, but the fact the ball faded just sufficiently to bounce over the center of goal-line felt significant. Rooney hadn’t just hit the target; he’d hit the middle of the target.Nobody — even Rooney himself — can truly claim to know the reasons for his upturn. Form is necessarily nebulous. It comes and goes and all anybody can do is try to create the conditions to encourage form when it does flicker. But it seems likely that the shift from Old Trafford has had the effect of hitting a reset button — just as returning to Monaco did for Radamel Falcao — and that without a move there wouldn’t have been the same upturn.There’s no guarantee that a top player will thrive having taken a step back, but the fact that Rooney is having fun again is a lesson for everybody. There comes a point when struggling on at the highest level makes no sense any more, but that doesn’t mean it has to be the end. And nor does Rooney’s good form mean anything other than going back to Everton was the right decision.
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