Photo credit: Shaun Botterill/Getty

It’s long felt inevitable that one of these days Everton’s prodigal son Wayne Rooney would return home. Judging from a report in the Independent that quotes sources close to Everton and Manchester United as believing the move is “likely to happen” this summer, we might be mere months away from seeing Rooney back in blue. It might sound a little strange at first, but when you think about it, the move actually does make sense for everyone.

First, here’s what the Independent has reported:

United would have been willing to let Rooney go to the Chinese Super League at the end of February but, as reported by The Independent at the time, the 31-year-old still felt he had more to offer at Premier League level and was also determined to ensure he was in the England team for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That would have been almost impossible, had he made the move to China, and it is also understood Rooney’s representatives were put off by the level of football there.

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Old Trafford sources have said that United may even be willing to waive a transfer fee, while Everton would be capable of offering Rooney a deal of £150,000 a week. That would obviously mark a considerable paycut given he currently earns around double that, but it is believed that he would be willing to accept the offer, such is the pull of his former club.

Here’s a good place to mention that this is a transfer rumor, and as such should be taken with all the salt pouring out of the box the little Morton girl carries around. However, the eventual switch back to Everton has been rumored forever, and the language of this report does sound firmer than the weakest “Such-and-such club might be interested in so-and-so player” version of the typical, baseless transfer rumor. Plus, this is the time of the season when clubs start getting serious about their summer transfer dealings by reaching out to players and agents and other teams. All that makes this particular rumor more believable than most stories of this type, even if it’s still very early and subject to change at any moment.

It also makes a lot of sense for all parties involved.

United’s interests are clearest here. Rooney might be their captain and all-time leading scorer now, but he’s also not even a regular rotation player in the squad anymore. Of his nine Premier League starts, he’s only made one since the turn of the year. Rooney is United’s fourth-choice striker, at best the third-choice No. 10 in off times José Mourinho goes with a 4-2-3-1 formation instead of the 4-3-3, and is no longer good enough to compete for consistent minutes in a squad with Man U’s talent and aspirations. That they’ve decided it’s time to move on is completely understandable.

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Rooney’s desire to be a Toffee once more also makes perfect sense. Though he’s been around forever, he is still only 31. He obviously believes he still has a few years of top-tier soccer in his legs, and if he wants to make England’s World Cup roster in 2018, he’ll need to prove it by playing regularly and in a league better than China’s or America’s. On top of those concerns, Rooney would probably be treated like a hero back in Merseyside again, which has its own obvious rewards.

Why Everton would want Rooney back is maybe the hardest question to answer, but it’s not all that difficult to come up with persuasive reasons. For one, this would clearly be a hit idea in the boardroom. Getting Rooney back would bring a massive jolt of interest amongst diehard Toffees eager to see what their once-beloved, later reviled, now liked-well-enough former star can offer. The dollar signs have to be dancing before their eyes—especially with the talk that Man U might be willing to let Rooney leave without asking for a transfer fee, and that Rooney could be talked into a big pay cut.

What about on the pitch, though? Where would Rooney fit? It’s here where you can find another, subtler reason why the transfer makes sense. United are reportedly interested in Everton’s Romelu Lukaku, who will almost certainly be available this summer. If you consider the possibility that this might be something of a swap deal (which might explain why United are so willing to part with Rooney without asking for a fee), then the mutual interest is even more reasonable. Lukaku would be great for United, and Everton would have a hole in their starting lineup right there for Rooney to step into.

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But is Rooney still able to lead the line as a striker in the EPL? His game is completely different than Lukaku’s, and the trend so far in Rooney’s career has been for him to drop deeper and deeper as age erodes his speed and quickness. Plus, Everton would definitely spend some of that Lukaku money on bringing in a younger striker with more upside from somewhere, and they should have the funds and allure to get someone who could start from day one.

If Everton could go out and buy a new starting-caliber striker with some of the Lukaku money, then Rooney would probably want to take up an attacking midfield position. Only there the club has the young and promising duo of Ross Barkley and Tom Davies. Rooney could probably earn a spot as a valuable rotation option for the front three manager Ronald Koeman has preferred playing at Everton, but it’s not clear that being the first attacking option off the bench would be something he’d be interested in, or that Everton would want to pay for.

Ultimately, it’s the status of Everton as a club that makes this Rooney rumor appear so logical. The relevant dynamics aren’t too different from the ones that will probably drive Lukaku off in the near future. Everton are a rich club in the biggest and most famous league in the world, but still will find it exceedingly difficult to compete with all those richer and bigger clubs ahead of them in the English hierarchy. The club might very well be ambitious, but as Lukaku’s words have hinted at, Everton’s ambitions to become a truly great, Champions League-quality team aren’t very realistic in the near term.

And so while Koeman—an ambitious man himself—might scoff at the idea of bringing in an old timer like Rooney to replace a world-class striker like Lukaku, Everton must be honest about where they are and what their goals should be. It’s hard to imagine three out of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham all happening to have coinciding off years and Everton slipping their way into a Champions League place, let alone a league title. Expecting trophies and glory then is foolhardy, and embracing the simpler, attainable pleasures while patiently plotting a slower ascent up the ladder is wise.

And what would bring Everton fans more joy from week to week than seeing the hometown-boy-done-good Wayne Rooney back scoring wonderful goals and pinging majestic passes at the place where it all started, and alongside the likes of fellow homegrown kids Barkley and Davies as he guides them along their paths to stardom, the same trail he is so intimately familiar with? So what if Rooney doesn’t score as many as Lukaku next season, wouldn’t it still be a treat to watch Rooney—who still looks like a good player when he does make it out on the pitch—show what he’s got left for the club he loves? Sure, a Rooney-Barkley-Davies trident isn’t likely to win any titles, but it would be an enchanting sight for the Toffee faithful, and should lead to plenty of pretty goals and wins to boot. What could be wrong with delighting in that?

[Independent]