The Sunday Mail
Are you still hungry? When all the romance was stripped away, the only thing that mattered was the answer to that question.
Wayne Rooney returning to Everton sounded like a story from a different era, an old professional going back to his first love for one last hurrah, but for it to work, the decision-makers at Goodison Park needed to look him in the eyes and see whether a fire was still burning.
Ronald Koeman, before things went askew, had the ultimate say.
When the pair met in Cheshire at the start of July, the answers Rooney provided were so emphatic that it meant the wheels were quickly put into motion on making this fantasy become a reality.
On a wider scale, though, many still had misgivings. What would happen when the buzz fizzled out? How would Rooney cope in a team where the players were not of the level he’d been used to at Old Trafford?
Wouldn’t it be better to go to America or China rather than gambling with his reputation? The Rooney heading back to Merseyside was not the force of nature who had left in August 2004.
His game had changed, the legs have slowed and, over the last two seasons, the goals had started to dry up. He was leaving himself open to any amount of criticism and he knew it. That was the situation five months ago.
So the question today is where would Everton be without him? In mathematical terms, the answer is stark: without his goals they would be sandwiched in between Swansea and West Ham, trying to scramble out of the relegation zone.
Nine points he has contributed so far. He wasn’t bought to replace Romelu Lukaku but he has been Everton’s man for the big occasion, arguably more than the Belgium international was, with match saving goals at The Etihad Stadium, the Amex Stadium and Anfield.
Add them on top of the matching winning performances against Stoke, on the opening day, Newcastle in midweek and West Ham, when he fscored one of the goals of the season, then already you can say this transfer has been a success.
Yes, there have been well-documented difficulties, one which led to him losing his driving licence and getting a community order, but he has emerged from that fog to see clearly again and the evidence is there on the pitch.
Rooney has been a key figure with a strong voice in the dressing room, a regular contributor to the first team WhatsApp group, reminding his team-mates of the need to maintain standards and how they need to keep aspiring for improvement.
His quality has never been in doubt – there have been regular episodes in training when he has done something with the ball that have stopped others dead in their tracks – but his personal desire to keep producing is just as impressive.
Collecting silverware at Goodison Park at the rate he managed with Manchester United was never going to be possible but, when he came back in July, there were little milestones and objectives he could pursue.
One, of course, was to score against Liverpool and the joy that was etched on his face as he made his way out of Anfield last week was genuine, the gift with which he was presented by Dejan Lovren’s tangle with Dominic Calvert-Lewin was never going to be spurned.
He ticked a box on Sunday but there are more challenges still to complete and that is why we need to go back to the first question that was asked of him in the summer: Is he still hungry? The answer is even more emphatic than it was then.
Finished? It feels like his Everton adventure is just starting. – Dailymail