Everton don't need Wayne Rooney - they should look forward, not back
The summer is still young, and while nearly two months remain before the transfer window shuts, there is little doubt which club has done the best business thus far. Everton have successfully completed a full spine transplant.
In goal, they landed the excellent Jordan Pickford from Sunderland for what could amount to £30 million. In defence, they matched that fee to take Michael Keane from Burnley. They splashed £27m on midfielder and former Ajax skipper Davy Klaassen, and welcomed prolific Malaga goal scorer Sandro for £5.25m to bolster their attack. So, after all that, do they really need Wayne Rooney?
You can understand the raw appeal of returning the Prodigal Son to Goodison Park. His departure as an 18-year-old to Manchester United in 2004 was a heavy blow to the supporters -- an emphatic reminder of their reduced status. Nearly 20 years after their League and European Cup Winners' Cup double, Everton had finally landed a player capable of taking the club back to the top... but couldn't keep him.
Now that he's seemingly unwanted at United, can you imagine a better way for Everton to alert the world of their renewed financial strength than by bringing Rooney back into the fold?
But while it makes obvious sense on a sentimental level -- and possibly from a commercial standpoint if one considers merchandise sales -- this move is hard to justify due to the most old fashioned of motives: football reasons.
Rooney has enjoyed an extraordinary career, breaking records for club and country with impunity and compiling a collection of trophies, medals and individual honours that would justify an extension to his house. But that is in the past now. And some distance in the past, too.
The striker hasn't scored 20 goals in a season -- in all competitions -- since 2012. In his last two Premier League campaigns, he has failed to reach even double figures. While he still displays flashes of class from time to time, particularly on free kicks, he looks increasingly sluggish on the ball. This is not entirely surprising. Although he's still only 31, he's been playing regularly since the age of 16 and has racked up some considerable mileage.
There would be a number of intangible benefits to his arrival at Goodison Park. By all accounts, he's regarded as a popular figure and has considerable influence on younger players, most of whom would have pretended to be him in the playground or -- as is increasingly the case -- on a games console. The likes of Ross Barkley, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin could learn a lot from Rooney, but for £250,000 a week you'd expect a little more than a dressing room mentor.
How could Everton justify paying a fortune for a man who was the joint 60th top scorer in the league last season with just five goals? He has adapted his game a little in recognition of his limitations, and it's worth noting that he contributed five assists last season. He also created a reasonable number of chances (34) and made a respectable number of key passes (29).
But in this he was bested by Juan Mata, who made the same number of appearances while racking up 44 chances and 41 key passes. While Rooney had two more assists to his name, that's not a huge consolation, and it's hard to argue that his performance will improve down the road rather than deteriorate further.
Some pundits have argued that Rooney still has much to offer and could show it if he "dropped down a level", but this contention makes little sense. By moving to Everton, he wouldn't be dropping down a level at all. He'd still be tasked with playing 38 Premier League games, the only difference being he'd have to play Manchester United twice instead of Everton. Furthermore, he'd be matching up against his former club with slightly inferior teammates, at least according to the league table.
If he were to move to Aston Villa like John Terry, that would be dropping down a level. Playing for Everton would be marginally more difficult, if anything.
There are echoes here of Shaun Wright-Phillips' return to Manchester City. Wright-Phillips was the brightest of the young stars assembled by former youth academy director Jim Cassell: an effervescent, irrepressible talent who shone in a side comprised of what could diplomatically be called "variable quality" long before their multi-million pound takeover. City sold him to Chelsea for £21m less than a year after Everton lost Rooney, and the move resulted from similar circumstances. The Blues offered him what City could not: big money and the chance of silverware.
Just three years later, the situation at the Etihad had changed dramatically. City were flush with cash, and seized the opportunity to bring Wright-Phillips home for a cut-price £8.5m. For a time both parties prospered, but it soon became apparent that City hadn't just matched their former star's level -- they had surpassed it. In 2009, Roberto Mancini took over at the Etihad, signaling Wright-Phillips' days were numbered. He moved to QPR before joining MLS in 2015.
After decades of difficulties, everything is finally going in Everton's favor. They have an owner, Farhad Moshiri, who can afford to support their advancement. They have plans in place for a new stadium. In Ronald Koeman and Steve Walsh, they have a proven manager and accomplished head of recruitment, respectively. The team finished seventh in the Premier League last season, and the squad is already markedly better.
Everton should be looking to build on their recent upswing and break into the top four. They should be looking towards a better future, not glancing back at the past. Rather than returning to Rooney, they would be better off spending their money elsewhere.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.