London- If nothing else, it was a more polished performance than the first time Wayne Rooney staged his own press conference, on a January evening in 2003 and the occasion of his first professional deal for Everton. At 17, Rooney was so unprepared for the barrage of flashing cameras the words stuck in his throat and his audience could hardly hear him speak.
David Moyes told him off for chewing gum and there was an awkward moment, after his first uncertain words, when he reached for the bottle of water on his table. Rooney was about to swig straight from it until Moyes intervened. “Pour it in the glass, Wayne,” came the advice.
Fourteen years on, it was a very different Rooney taking his seat in the People’s Club Lounge at Goodison Park, holding up the No10 shirt – the possession of Romelu Lukaku until recently – and telling the story of how he had kept the negotiations of his transfer from Manchester United a secret even from his closest family.
The explanation was that his dad, Wayne Sr, would have been so excited “he would not have been able to keep it in”. The same for his mum, Jeanette. “I didn’t tell Kai [his eldest son] either because he was going to school and I didn’t want him speaking to his mates,” Rooney reported. “It was literally once everything was agreed and the paperwork was through that I told everyone. Kai just jumped on me. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen him. My dad, too. Obviously he’s an Evertonian and he’s been going to Manchester to watch me for the last 13 years. Now he’ll just have a five-minute drive.”
It would need a flint heart not to appreciate the symmetry that had brought Rooney back to the club where he has been both loved and reviled – once kissing the United badge directly in front of the stand where he was now talking – and now wants to play his way back into the crowd’s affections.
Approaching 32, Rooney was quick to make the point he was here to win trophies, not because Goodison represented “a retirement home”, but there was also an admission that he could understand why people suspected his career had been in decline – “certainly the last year” – and it did not need long in his company to realise that his one season with José Mourinho in Manchester had become a personal ordeal.
“November,” Rooney replied to the question of when he had started to think he had to cut himself free from Old Trafford. “I started the season doing OK. I’d done well, I had a bad game at Watford away, and that was it [out of the team].”
And after that? “The hardest part was actually lifting the two trophies, the League Cup and the Europa League. You don’t feel like you deserve it because you haven’t been part of the games. That was hard. You’re naturally happy because you have won but you don’t celebrate as much as if you were on the pitch.
“It was just a frustrating time. It was the first time in my career I didn’t play. I was on the bench and that’s not me. I needed to play but I was also the captain of Manchester United so I needed to stay positive around the place and try not to bring any negativity. I spoke to José in January to see what his opinions were and he always said he wanted me to stay and help the team until the end of the season. I did that. But I knew I had to leave for my career.”
Moving to a suite overlooking the Goodison pitch, Rooney made it clear he had abandoned his wish to reinvent himself as a midfielder and would be leading from the front for Ronald Koeman’s team.
Beyond that, there is next year’s World Cup and the sense, perhaps, that his England career should not be talked about in the past tense, after all. “If I had gone to China, which was an option, then I would have called it a day,” Rooney said. Not on Merseyside, though. “I want to play for England. You can’t get in the England squad because of what you have done before. You need to be playing well to represent your country. I understand that and I respect that. That’s what I have to do now.”
The second coming will begin at home to Stoke City on 12 August but it would be wrong to assume his return to Old Trafford on 17 September is the fixture that will mean the most to him in the coming season.
Rooney deadpanned that he would be going back to Manchester, the club where he won 12 major trophies and scored more goals than any other player in history, with the sole aim of trying to win three points. But his eyes lit up when someone asked if there was a date circled in red in his diary. “There’s already one: the Liverpool game [9 December]. That was one of my biggest regrets when I left Everton, not scoring in the derby. I came on in my first one [a 0-0 draw in December 2002] and I hit the crossbar. To score against Liverpool for Everton? That would be great.”
It was spoken like a true Evertonian – “Once a blue, always a blue,” as the T-shirt famously stated – on a day when Rooney also reminded his audience he was in the crowd at Wembley when his club won their last trophy, the 1995 FA Cup.
The only slight issue was Rooney being late for his own press conference, leaving Koeman waiting 25 minutes in a corridor. Nobody, however, was impertinent enough to point out there was a bigger crowd outside for Duncan Ferguson’s return to Goodison in 2000.
Koeman did not seem to mind too much and when Rooney did finally appear it was difficult to remember the last public appearance when he has looked and sounded so happy. “It just felt right,” he concluded. “It felt so comfortable when I walked in.”
The Guardian Sport