LONDON (Reuters) - On returning to his boyhood club last year, Wayne Rooney revealed he was such a die-hard fan that he had worn Everton pyjamas each night during his 13 years away.
It was a nice line which drew much laughter as the football world bought into his journey back to the club where it had all begun.
But 12 months on he may face more embarrassing questions about his nightwear if his decision to agree a “deal in principle” with DC United leads to a move to the MLS.
The sentiment that followed Rooney’s return to Goodison Park from Manchester United, where his career burgeoned, never outlasted Sam Allardyce’s arrival last November.
Straightaway, the no-nonsense manager encountered the same problem he had grappled with in his short time in charge of England: if Rooney was no longer either the warrior who led United so fearlessly or the outrageously gifted tyro who joined them from Everton, what exactly was he?
In the quest to find out, Rooney was shuffled round the team, playing striker, support, attacking and deep-lying midfielder or coming in off the left and right. Rooney’s versatility allowed him to adapt each time but frustration was building.
Everything came to a head last month when he was substituted little more than halfway through successive games against Manchester City and Liverpool.
Rooney’s angry response was littered with expletives that were picked up on television. If he could not be trusted to make the difference when it really counted, he seemed to say, when would he be?
Although Rooney remains Everton’s leading goal-getter this season with 11, he last scored in December.
Allardyce muttered darkly about not being able to play him alongside Gylfi Sigurdsson, Everton’s other marquee summer signing, while at the same time complaining that Rooney did not get into the box enough.
“We talk to the player about that situation, whoever it might be, and say levels have to be lifted. And when that continues to happen, no matter who it is, whether it’s Wayne, Phil Jagielka, Tom Davies or whoever, you get left out of the team,” said Allardyce.
While the manager has laced his criticism with some praise, even suggesting earlier this week that it would take “a massive offer” to tempt Everton to sell, it was hard to escape the conclusion that he felt the speed of games was passing the player by.
Yet Rooney is only 32, six months younger than Ronaldo, who has a Champions League final and World Cup coming up, and only one year older than Teddy Sheringham when he joined United for what proved a golden period in his career.
While theoretically, Rooney should have much to look forward to, in the MLS or elsewhere, former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson always hinted that his one-time golden boy would never last as long as, say, Ryan Giggs who played until he was 40.
“Wayne’s got a different physique,” said Ferguson when Rooney broke Sir Bobby Charlton’s United goal record. “He’s stocky, well made. Players age in different ways.”
Rooney’s apparent decision to see out his career elsewhere suggests he is not even bothering to discover how Allardyce’s own Goodison Park power struggle plays out, with many supporters keen for a new manager to be brought in this summer.
No announcement on Rooney’s future will be made until July 10, when the MLS transfer window opens, but it would be no surprise if he decided to follow a trail favoured by ageing pros.
But Rooney’s former England team mate Steve Gerrard would tell him that it doesn’t come easy. “If people think they can come here just to have a holiday and retire they are going to have (made) a mistake,” Gerrard said of his time there in an interview in 2015.
“I have had to come here and work hard and get fit, make sure that I keep performing to play well.”
Which is not that different from the challenge Rooney faced at Everton.
One year on, it may be even more difficult to succeed.
Reporting by Neil Robinson,; Editing by Neville Dalton