LONDON – There were fleeting smiles as he made his way around the pitch, with three little boys wearing his No 10 shirt following in close attendance.
This scene was something Wayne Rooney would have envisaged last year when he knew he was coming home: the chance to walk around Goodison Park with his eldest children, Kai, Kit and Klay, making the kind of memories that money cannot buy.
Everton mean the world to Rooney (below) but as he took part in Saturday’s lap of appreciation he must have had mixed emotions. A father’s pride is one thing. A professional footballer’s frustration is entirely different.
Rooney, when he returned from Manchester United, would have anticipated the final home match of the season as a festival. When his signing was confirmed in July, and we heard how he had slept in Everton pyjamas, his boyhood club were being routinely championed.
Their business had been brisk but Rooney’s transfer stood out. He was not coming back for money. He told manager Ronald Koeman he was determined to help the club progress. His attitude impressed Koeman and the deal was swiftly concluded.
What Rooney did not foresee was regression. Everton have been a pale imitation of the team who finished seventh under Koeman and the end of a campaign filled with tension and apathy cannot come soon enough.
As he joined his team-mates after Saturday’s miserable 1-1 draw with Southampton, Rooney will not have been alone in thinking about what the future holds at a club riddled with division.
Will Sam Allardyce, the current boss, be staying? For all the opprobrium that was heaped on the manager at Goodison at the weekend, major shareholder Farhad Moshiri has not decided what he intends to do with Allardyce, who still has 12 months left on his contract.
If Allardyce does stay, what does the future hold for Rooney? The 32-year-old, who also has 12 months remaining on his deal, sees himself as being a central midfielder now, someone who can dictate the play, but there is a doubt about whether Allardyce agrees.
The pair have spoken since Rooney was substituted in the 0-0 draw with Liverpool on April 7. Rooney was enraged at being taken off, shouting ‘Bull****!’ as he pulled on his jacket.
Allardyce insisted it was the right call and he also substituted Rooney in two of the three games that followed.
Such treatment suggests Rooney, who sat out the Southampton draw with a calf problem, is horribly out of form. He has not sparkled of late but the irony of this season is that he remains the man who has provided the best moments.
Without Rooney’s 10 goals, the last against Swansea on December 18, Everton would be four places lower in the table and seven points worse off. Goodison was never more elated than on the opening day when his header beat Stoke.
At Anfield in December, the penalty he slammed into the roof of the net brought an explosion of joy to the away section. Then there was his display against West Ham on November 29, when he scored a hat-trick, rounded off with a stunning shot from inside his own half.
Rooney received two awards for that game at Everton’s end-of-year gala dinner last week — Goal of the Season and Individual Performance of the Season — but what he really wants is to be playing in games that matter.
The smiles he wore on Saturday masked frustration. It has been said Rooney is more detached at the club’s Finch Farm training ground compared to how lively he was on his return.
Then again, is it any wonder? Every Evertonian is fed up. The onus is on Moshiri to provide the answers and give clarity all around.