Manchester United defeated Everton on Saturday to keep up their tilt at retaining the Premier League trophy thanks to a goal from Javier Hernandez, but what was most intriguing about the game was not so much what happened in the match, but what did not happen. Contrary to past games between the sides and Sir Alex Ferguson’s comments before the fixture, Wayne Rooney was greeted with little more fury than your average visiting player who has been similarly dogged by controversy.
Indeed, Ashley Cole, who has no connection to Everton or any history of indiscretion against the Toffees, should expect a more vehement welcome than the former Everton striker. Likewise, Gary Neville was greeted more viciously almost every time he played on the blue half of Merseyside than Rooney was this weekend.
When the teams were announced Rooney was the recipient of the loudest disapproval of any visiting player, but it was not the visceral response some outsiders may have been expecting. Almost every year since Rooney’s move from Everton to United in 2004, there has been a case of diminishing returns when Rooney came to his former home.
Ironically, the tender age at which Rooney left Goodison – the source of so much rancour as Evertonians contemplated just what they would be missing out on as Rooney developed into one of the world’s greatest players – is part of the reason the two sides have thawed toward one another. Rooney has been a Manchester United player for just over seven years now – that is nearly four times as long as he spent as part of David Moyes’ first team. While he will always be a product of Everton’s academy, he is much more a part of United’s history than Everton’s.
The immediate aftermath of Rooney’s departure was the most vitriolic and unpleasant reaction to a transfer from Goodison Park since Nick Barmby crossed Stanley Park to join Liverpool in 2000.The hatred towards Barmby never truly died down until the player entered his twilight years, but as late as 2009, when Hull City came to Goodison with Barmby in the XI, the familiar, foul chants greeted his name – Joleon Lescott will receive the same reaction when he takes to the Goodison field for the first time as a Manchester City player. There were boos and gestures directed towards Rooney on Saturday, but they were far more muted and far less commonplace than past years.
Ferguson claimed Rooney was viewed as a “traitor”
As Rooney raises his son as an Evertonian, and makes amends with David Moyes over their past differences, he has come to be viewed in a different light, one that, while not exactly favourable, is far more befitting of a player may well be “always a Blue.”