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Selfish Rooney? Why Everton return no lone priority

COMMENT: The emotion. The Koeman project. Giving back. Yeah, they're all factors in Wayne Rooney's return to Everton. But this is no selfless decision. For Rooney, Everton is a stepping stone...

June 4, at a sunny, sold-out Old Trafford. The banter was flying. Everyone had a smile on their face - well almost everyone. Rooney was angry. Indeed, raging. A week after being dumped by England coach Gareth Southgate for the June internationals, the Manchester United captain was back at Old Trafford for Michael Carrick's testimonial - and his performance was extraordinary.

It was a testimonial. A friendly. Celebrating the career of a long time teammate. Yet Rooney hadn't read the script. He was on the pitch with 40 and 50 year-old men, they were laughing and joking - but not Rooney. He was constantly in the ear of Neil Swarbrick, badgering, almost bullying the referee on a day when no-one was getting out of second gear. Well, again, almost no-one... Rooney, ashen-faced, time and again confronted Swarbrick and his linesmen - particularly in the second-half. Shots were snatched at. Passes overhit. And while everyone else enjoyed the sunshine, Rooney was on the brink of exploding.

For the United captain, this was his final chance to prove Southgate wrong. The squad had been selected, but a couple of goals in Carrick's testimonial would get people talking. But on the day, it just didn't fall for him, though he tried - again and again... and again.

As much as it was baffling at the time, Everton fans can take great comfort in Rooney's performance that day. Yeah, he's excited by the project laid out in front of him by chairman Bill Kenwright. He's been impressed by the feedback received about Ronald Koeman. But beyond the emotion and romance of returning to where it all began, Rooney signs for Everton with Russia front of mind.

Need proof? Just look at his presentation photo taken on Sunday. It's been a long time since Rooney has looked so fit at this stage in the year. For the past two weeks, the 31 year-old has been at his local gym every day. He wants to give himself every possible chance of getting back into the England squad and on the plane to the Russia World Cup next summer.

Carrick's testimonial told us everything about Rooney's intentions. China was no option. Nor the 'States. The thought of international retirement never grew legs. It was about finding the right club and the right platform to prove he's still among the best available for his country.

And Everton offers just that.

Jordan Pickford, Davy Klaassen, Michael Keane and Sandro Ramirez. It's some team the deep pockets of Farsad Moshiri is assembling. And Rooney isn't the end of the signing spree with a new bid for Gylfi Sigurdsson now lodged with Swansea City. But where will Rooney fit? Will he even get a game? There's some doubters at Goodison Park, including Kevin Ratcliffe...

He'll walk into the team, will Wayne. There's no player on Everton's books who is a match for Rooney. Expectations will be high - as they should be. But there'll also be less pressure on his shoulders.

At United, a tidy, above average performance was never enough. Rooney had to be the best performer from an XI of outstanding players. Anything else and the knives were out - as they have been for club and country over the past two years.

But with Everton, while the demands will be similar, the performance levels won't have to be. At United, such worries are now the ownership of Paul Pogba.

The emotion of Rooney's return and the record fee paid for Pickford have generated the biggest reaction for Everton, but Sandro will prove the real jewel from this summer's market campaign.

Don't let his knockdown fee fool you. That €6 million buyout clause in his old contract was the only way Malaga could convince the Spain international to sign with them last summer.

It was a mutual decision. Sandro needed a platform to prove his worth and Malaga a striker many in Spain regard as a bigger talent than Real Madrid's €80 million-rated Alvaro Morata. At the La Rosaleda, they always knew Sandro was no long-term option. Though choosing Everton over Real Madrid did raise some eyebrows. Real were also prepared to meet his buyout clause. But Sandro couldn't consider such a move - particularly after the backlash following his infamous winner against Barca last season. Everton were rewarded for their ambition - and Spain's football politics.

Rooney and Sandro will be good for eachother. They're kindred spirits. You only have to listen to the man who first took Sandro to La Masia as a 14 year-old. Jordi Gris, now no longer connected to Barca, could've been talking about a young Rooney ten years ago.

"You don't get many players like Sandro. This is a guy who trains hard, who wants to improve and who is football-mad.

"You can see that he was made to be a professional. If you make him an important player from the start, he will repay you."

Koeman will be excited. He'll know Sandro will be good for Rooney - and vice-versa. They're at opposite ends of their careers, but with the same goal. Both needed to get away from a giant to prove themselves.

If Koeman can get it right, Everton fans will be seeing both Rooney and Sandro in Russia next year.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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