He can't win, Wayne.
It must have made grim reading for Wayne Rooney this past week, sat at home in his Everton pyjamas waiting by the phone. Principally, there have been two trains of thought on the situation: The Toffees have either been blindsided by romanticism or seduced by his commercial value.
A war has waged between the hopeless romantics and sneering pragmatists, with even the former erring more on the side of caution than conviction. Plenty have said Rooney to Everton is a nice signing; precious few have deemed it a good one. The line between kindness and condescension is a thin one. It's possible to be smothered by both.
When Everton chairman Bill Kenwright—a leading instigator of the move—recently said in that indomitable theatrical style of his of welcoming Rooney's return, "Of course I'm a romantic. I'd bring Bob Latchford back if I could. And Dave Hickson," eyes were most definitely rolled among those who subscribe to the Billy Beane school of recruitment. It's hard to place a numerical value on emotion in a spreadsheet.
Rooney's more acerbic critics would probably argue Latchford might be a better option.
That Rooney engenders perfervid irritation in so many football writers meant the teasing foreplay to his move back to where it all began, after a 13-year hiatus in Manchester, spawned its own mini-genre of think pieces.
We have all long since anointed ourselves as experts on who clubs should sign—why billionaire owners rely on the whims of scouting networks when hacks do the same job for all to see on someone else's dime remains a mystery—but rare is it that one is indulged to pontificate on who they shouldn't.
Life is, after all, only so long.
It's a little like writing a cookbook dedicated to dishes that don't contain chicken. It tends to be quite a broad church.
Yet, Everton signing a 31-year-old striker who scored a record 253 goals for Manchester United in 559 appearances for essentially nothing garnered vehement opposition from far and wide.
United could have signed Usain Bolt as Zlatan Ibrahimovic's replacement on the say-so of their commercial department to aid a search for an official dabbing partner and received less sneering than Everton have endured. Sentimentalism has always been a dirty word in any industry that values ruthlessness so highly.
Though perhaps the writer Graham Greene was on to something when he said: "Sentimentality—that's what we call the sentiment we don't share."
Earlier in the summer, the buzzword around Rooney's situation was apathy. Apparently, no one cared about where he was going, until the point when he was actually going—then the mood turned to incredulity.
What would forward-thinking cash-rich Everton want with a washed-up has-been who has been in terminal decline for years?
The end of three decades of austerity at Goodison Park was supposed to be about looking forward not backward, and that had seemed to be the case when manager Ronald Koeman and director of football Steve Walsh made light work of relieving major shareholder Farhad Moshiri of a small fortune, in bringing in Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramirez and Henry Onyekuru.
Many perceive adding Rooney's name to that list as less a coup than an indulgence. It's cognac and a cigar at the end of a good meal, a predictable demonstration of tawdry wealth. All fur coat and no knickers springs to mind.
Rooney, though, should not be a slave to his past any more than Everton. Throughout his career, he has suffered from being judged as the player he never quite became, rather than the brilliant one he did. It's quite the backhanded compliment when people complain he compares unfavourably to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo.
That some Manchester United supporters will never forget how, in his 13 years at Old Trafford, he flashed a little too much thigh at both Chelsea and Manchester City is par for the course, and it takes a braver writer than this one to wade into another family's affairs. The same can be said of those Everton fans who took his "Once a Blue, Always a Blue" T-shirt a little too literally.
What's indisputable, though—from a neutral perspective—is that as both United and England's finest-ever goalscorer, he merits his place at football's top table.
Rooney's eight goals and 10 assists in 39 appearances last term hardly instil confidence that a Romelu Lukaku-shaped void will be filled easily. Still, they are not atrocious numbers either.
From 15 Premier League starts (and a further 10 appearances off the substitutes' bench) he scored five goals and set up as many. A further eight bookings over the same period can be put down to either frustration or an inability to keep pace.
At Rooney's unveiling to the press on Monday afternoon, Koeman was quick to praise the player's versatility. He also explained the role he expects him to play as he looks to spread goals more evenly among his team.
Per Sky Sports, Koeman said:
"A player with his qualities can play different positions but offensively. He can be a 10 behind the striker, he can be in a free role from the left, he can be the nine, he can be the seven.
"Romelu scored 25, the next on the list scored four or five. I'd prefer several scoring 10-15 than only one scoring 25. Wayne is the kind of player to bring productivity."
Rooney was quick to make clear he is not returning to Merseyside to try out his Everton slippers: "I always play like I have a point to prove. I'm not coming into a retirement home." Good job, too, as behind the smile, Koeman is as smart as a whip and as hard as Nurse Ratched.
The Dutchman is no one's fool. If Ross Barkley is a better option than Rooney, then he'll play Barkley. And if he's not, maybe he's not all that after all. There is an arrogant assumption, usually made by people who observe the game rather than partake in it, that the value of experienced players in dressing rooms is overstated. Rooney leaves United with the words of his former team-mates sounding like anything but hollow platitudes.
Maybe he did become too powerful in Manchester at one point, but it's nigh-on impossible to find a bad word said about him from anyone who has either played with or against him.
In a piece for the New York Times on Sunday, the always even-handed Rory Smith wrote: "There is something else at play, too, though, something perhaps unique to Rooney himself: a readiness, if not quite a glee, to write him off at the first available opportunity, to believe that there will be no final hurrah, no last swan song, no Indian summer. It is a trend that has its roots in what he was, who he is and where he came from."
He's right about the unique to Rooney bit, but he's wrong on the glee front. Some of the best football writers I know react to Rooney shanking a 50-yard cross-field pass into touch the same way they do a Mesut Ozil nutmeg sent from heaven—sheer bliss.
Pieces are filed imbued with a tone of doleful sadness over a career on the wane, yet live minute-by-minute autopsies are often penned with a (gleeful) scalpel. Considered reports of his performances over this past two years or so have read like obituaries.
It's not even as though there is a choir of Rooney worshippers left to quiet. By his own admission, he is far from the player he once was. As long ago as 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson prophesied his decline in his autobiography (via FourFourTwo):
"In my final year, when he was left out a few times, and replaced in games, I felt he was struggling to get by people and had lost some of his old thrust.
"But he was capable of making extraordinary contributions. Those flashes guaranteed his profile."
Film stars have a profile. Musicians have a profile. Few footballers transcend the remit of the athlete to need one. Rooney has been one of those who has, pretty much since day one.
With 755 senior appearances for club and country already on the clock, there is little dispute Rooney years are more like those of the dog variety. When Koeman spoke of his new signing being "only 31," it was hard not to recall Tim Lovejoy on FanZone duty for Sky Sports. In that not-at-all-smug way of his, he said, "He's through! Oh, it's alright, it's only Ray Parlour…" just before the Arsenal midfielder rifled in a superb opener in the 2002 FA Cup final against Chelsea.
Still, it seems a little churlish to overly criticise Rooney's professionalism and to write him off as finished at 31 when he's managed to get this far with a smile/snarl on his face.
There's not another footballer alive who evokes even a smidgen of the snobbery that has followed Rooney around since he stopped looking like a kid that had forgotten his kit and been forced to wear too big shorts. He ceased being cute a long time ago.
By the time he had moved to United in 2004, less than two years after announcing himself to the world with that winning goal the 16-year-old from Croxteth thumped in off the bar against Arsenal to end their 30-game unbeaten run, he had filled his shirt to the point on his debut in red he ripped the neck of it because it was too tight. A 6-2 defeat of Fenerbahce at Old Trafford saw him bag a hat-trick so cocksure in its execution that it seemed impossible anyone but a teenager could have scored it.
Here was a rebel with a cause. The tyro was ready to let it all hang out. The tabloid lens caught it all, good and bad, on and off the pitch.
Smith added: "But much of the scorn he has attracted—and that has, unfairly, slowly eroded his status—had its roots somewhere else: in his roots. England is a country hidebound by class, trapped in a web of nuance and presumption. (David) Beckham, like Rooney, was born of working-class stock, but his was the right kind: aspirational, smiling, petit bourgeois, of the affluent South East."
To the refined football writer and fan, Rooney has always been uncouth. He is "Ingerland" personified, a foul-mouthed sunburnt ringleader of the Golden Generation who proved barely gilded let alone 64 carat. With his summer paunch, booze, cigarettes and giant lollipops, this Stereophonics-loving karaoke devotee has forever and a day been the football hipster's sitting duck. The Scouse Onslow brings out the Hyacinth Bucket in even some of the mildest-mannered and left-leaning of football's scribblers.
Rooney is the council-estate lottery winner who builds an ostentatious mansion in the most exclusive of postcodes. In other countries, ordinary kids with extraordinary talents are lionized; here, in England, they are often fed to them. God, it's depressing.
When literary doyen Martin Amis attempted to capture the zeitgeist back in 2012, via an acidic satire on celebrity-obsessed culture, Lionel Asbo: State of England, the novel's central character resembled Rooney:
"In his outward appearance Lionel was brutally generic—the slablike body, the full lump of the face, the tight-shaved crown with its tawny stubble.
"Out in the great world city, there were hundreds of thousands of young men who looked pretty much like Lionel Asbo.
"In certain lights and settings he resembled, some said the England and Manchester United prodigy Wayne Rooney: not exceptionally tall, and not fat, but exceptionally broad and especially deep."
Last week the Guardian's David Conn sent out a tweet on the topic of the prodigal son's return that was so loaded it should have been accompanied by an emoji of a revolver:
"The romance of modern football: Wayne Rooney wants to move back to Everton—for £250,000 a week," was spat into an echo chamber. The echo chamber spat back giant goblets of distaste predictably pious in tone. It's worth noting here that more widespread reports have the figure at £150,000. Had he offered to donate every penny to charity, he'd have been accused of trying to steal Bono's thunder.
Rooney's options were essentially: stay at Manchester United and earn £300,000 a week to play five-a-side Monday to Friday with his mates and have weekends off; move to either MLS or Chinese Super League and earn the same or significantly more; take a 50 per cent pay cut to rejoin Everton. Mercenary bastard.
If it is true United waived a fee as part of the Lukaku deal, and Everton are paying him £150,000 a week on a two-year contract, notwithstanding any signing-on fee (admittedly likely to be substantial) it should cost them around £15.6 million.
Sure, it's a punt given last season it looked as though the only thing more shot than his legs was his confidence. However, after the eye-watering Premier League television deal, that type of money looks about enough to get an experienced matchday mascot to don furry feet for a season, but it wouldn't buy you much more than that.
After accruing five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a UEFA Champions League winners' medal, a Europa League title and a FIFA Club World Cup in the 13 years he has been away, the notion that Rooney has nothing left to offer Everton's dressing room is nonsense.
Still, for all the success he leaves behind in Manchester, it feels like rooting for the underdog in wishing Rooney well on his return to Goodison.
And if that's romance talking, then so be it.