Rooney Returns to Everton as a Champion but Not a Conqueror – New York Times
And yet, Everton’s willingness to commit millions to restoring him to the fold has been characterized, at best, as a decision made with the heart rather than the head. At worst, it is seen as an expensive indulgence, a costly misstep, where Rooney’s presence is to Everton’s detriment and his absence to Manchester United’s considerable benefit. In part, of course, that is soccer, and sports generally: unforgiving, relentless, pathologically averse to sentimentality. The past does not provide credit for the future.
Rooney has faded, of course, and fast; there is a reason José Mourinho spent much of last year slowly easing him out of his team. Time has taken its toll on Rooney more quickly, more cruelly than it has or will on others. His rapid descent was foreseen; he always had the look, the body, of a player who would burn brilliantly but briefly.
His greatness lay in his power, his dynamism, his explosiveness; over these last two, three, four years, all have visibly diminished. Rooney is not today, and will not be tomorrow, what he was yesterday.
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.
It was at the 2004 European Championships that Rooney announced himself to the world. By that stage, he had already been regarded as English soccer’s ascendant star for almost two years, ever since his last-minute winning goal in a game against Arsenal had moved Arsène Wenger to describe him as the “best player under 20” he had seen in his time in England.
He was still some way from that milestone age when he arrived in Portugal for Euro 2004. He was only 18 as he swept through the early stages of the tournament, prompting Steven Gerrard to describe him as “the best player in Europe” on current form.
His injury, in a quarterfinal defeat against Portugal, was seen as the turning point of that game and, ultimately, England’s campaign, but his overall contribution had already been enough to persuade Sven-Goran Eriksson, England’s manager at the time, to compare Rooney’s impact to that of Pelé, for Brazil, in the 1958 World Cup.
The parallel summed up a broader mood: In Rooney, at last, England thought it had a player who would eventually stand up in comparison with soccer’s true greats. The belief stuck. In the years to come, Manchester United’s fans would coin a song in his honor, one in which he was described (admittedly not entirely seriously) as the “white Pelé.”