Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Rooney looks forward to facing old club Everton

Wayne Rooney's relationship with the football club he was brought up with has become so fractious that it's easy to forget how deeply his ties with them run.

The last time Everton were at Wembley, for instance, beating Manchester United through Paul Rideout's goal 14 years ago, he was at Wembley with the club's junior side to cheer them on.

There's been much water under bridges since those days, Rooney's provocative kissing of his United badge at Goodison in October contributing to the enmity felt on both sides where he and his old club's fans are concerned. But would he go to watch them in another Wembley if they beat United in Sunday's semi final? Possibly.

"I'm not sure where I'd sit,” Rooney said. “I might have to go in disguise.”

The last part is certainly true. Rooney's battles with the club which gave him his break have ranged from claims that David Moyes contributed to his leaving Goodison by leaking stories about him to the Liverpool Echo to some bizarre gestures towards the Gwladys Street End — where his very own family sit — over the course of the past five years. All reinforcing evidence to Evertonian minds of the graffiti which was visible at Goodison soon after he left: “Could have been a God but chose to be a Devil.”

Yet for Rooney nothing can take away the memory of May 20 1995, when you've grown up with posters of Duncan Ferguson, Graham Stuart et al on your wall.

"It was the best feeling I ever had as an Everton fan, seeing them win the FA Cup,” Rooney reflected. “I had loads of Everton posters on my wall as a kid, and I always remember Graham Stuart hitting the bar just before Paul Rideout scored.”

And whose are the results he first looks for? Everton's, says the player who chose an FA Youth Cup match to reveal a T-shirt under his jersey that read, ‘Once a Blue, always a Blue.'

"Of course I want Everton to do well,” he said. “It's always a bit strange when I face them, because they're the club I supported growing up and then played for. There's always banter between me and the Everton fans, but it doesn't run too deep. I've said before I'd love them to finish second in the Premier League to us.”

Anticipation of Sunday, when a lot of the Rooney clan will be at Wembley to watch, was mixed with relief after a blow to his foot from Porto's Fernando which left him hobbling around the pitch and, he revealed yesterday, fearing he had broken another metatarsal.

"For a couple of minutes I feared that,” he said. I've not had the best of luck against Portuguese teams. I did my metatarsal here in Euro 2004, I got sent off against Porto in pre-season and got a three-game ban, and before that I got sent off against Portugal in the World Cup in 2006. But my foot is okay now. I just took a knock. I played on and after a couple of minutes it settled down.”

United enter Sunday's game with some renewed belief in their defence, which was supported by Rooney's own defensive effort. "In the last few weeks we've been sloppy defensively with the goals we've conceded and it's not been good enough,” Rooney said. “But with Rio [Ferdinand] back in the team again was a big plus for us and we looked solid.”

Nemanja Vidic acknowledged the part played by Rooney and Ryan Giggs in United’s defensive display on Wednesday.

“Playing as a team defensively is what we haven't had in the last few games. I was delighted that we played like a team. It wasn't about getting together and talking about where we had to improve. Sometimes you just have to look at yourself. You know what you have to do.”

But Rooney is aware that his old club, just like Arsenal, could so easily shatter what United feel they can achieve in the next six weeks.

"We're so close to glory now and just one defeat could shatter our dreams,” he said.