Comments Off on Beyond the romanticism, Rooney will be crucial to Everton’s varied attack

And so, after a 13-year footballing lifetime that bore every club trophy, that encompassed the all-time scoring record for England and for England’s most successful club, Manchester United, that has seen his brutal intensity gradually deplete, Wayne Rooney is once again an Everton player. Now the question is how best to use him.

Wayne Rooney celebrates a goal at Goodison during his original Everton spell with Toffees legend Kevin Campbell in the background.

This is complicated by the fact Rooney currently has no fixed position. Emerging as a second striker as 4-4-2 largely gave way to one-striker systems, he has switched between a 9 and 10, featured out wide particularly during his younger days, and uncomfortably in midfield in recent times. At first, this was a reflection of the varied nature of his talent; latterly, a consequence of his inability to command a starting spot. As power and speed diminished, Rooney became caught in an unconvincing act of reinvention, a false 10, often deep enough to slip into a later years Steven Gerrard tribute, all Hollywood passes and conceded throw-ins.

Everton don’t need him in midfield. Davy Klaassen will surely be positioned ahead of Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin, and come August, Koeman may also have Ross Barkley and Gylfi Sigurdsson available to him. He could field Tom Davies, Kevin Mirallas and Ademola Lookman there, and later in the season, Yannick Bolasie and perhaps even Kieran Dowell. Everton’s number 10 needs to score, assist, press, tackle and generally combine midfield and attack. Rooney can do all that but he’s likely to fall short of the physical demands over the course of a season.

In comparison to Everton’s growing creative ranks, the striking department remains threadbare. With Enner Valencia and Arouna Kone gone, Romelu Lukaku’s Instagram-sponsored departure to Minochester United meant the Toffees had only Dominic Calvert-Lewin, best considered an Under-23 player or loanee this season, and the exciting but inexperienced Sandro Ramirez waiting in the wings. Everton have a vacancy for a striker, for two in fact.

If rumours of Olivier Giroud’s arrival come to fruition, he should be Everton’s first choice frontman. If not, a striker of similar capabilities should be sought. Koeman’s preferred style of play works best with this type of player – Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Ajax, Graziano Pelle at Feyenoord and Southampton. The gap between Lukaku and Everton’s midfield was too big last year – a physical distance reflected in the scoring charts. Giroud is the man to bridge that gap. £25m for a 30-year-old is a fair whack, but if Ibrahimovic’s longevity offers any hint of a seasoned hold-up poacher’s value, it could yet prove reasonable.

Varied approach

Building around a targetman could marginalise Rooney, and frustrate Ramirez, but this is surely part of the plan. Starting Rooney every week would be risky given his physical limitations. Similarly, throwing Ramirez in at the deep end seems unwise particularly with Everton facing last year’s top five in the first six weeks of the season. Koeman needs both to accept a limited role. Varying his strikers is the best approach to replacing Lukaku.

Wayne Rooney completes his return to Everton having been used as a makeweight in Romelu Lukaku's move to Manchester United.

Not only is it difficult to identify an affordable replacement capable of covering 25 goals alone (28 technically with Valencia’s three added), buying such a player is no guarantee of returns. We’ve seen plenty of strikers excel abroad only to struggle in England. If Rooney (13.2 league goals per yer on average) and Ramirez (14 league goals in his only full campaign) can each cover a third of that, by no means a certainty but entirely possible, the pressure would be significantly eased on Everton’s first choice striker, be it Giroud or anyone else.

Koeman should also earmark Rooney for a key role in Everton’s Europa League campaign. By far the squad’s most experienced European campaigner, and the former club captain of the holders of course, Rooney can provide the steadying influence and goals required. It would also make it easier for Koeman to leave Rooney out from to time which, all romanticism aside, will be vital.

It is a remarkable story, a uniquely positive modern tale that encompasses the full spectrum of emotions, but beyond the nostalgia and the idealism, there is a footballer who needs to be used properly. Rooney is neither the rampaging force he once was, nor is he the total dud he’s now made out to be. If Koeman restores him to his suited number 9 role, and uses him sparingly, it could work.

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By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789

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