WAYNE ROONEY returns to Everton on Saturday knowing there could be no more fitting arena than Goodison Park to notch his 100th career goal.
It was at the famous Merseyside citadel that Rooney announced his arrival with a wondrous match-winner against Arsenal as a raw 16-year-old.
He went on to score 17 goals for his boyhood idols before he left for Manchester United, an acrimonious departure that will ensure he gets a hot reception from the Gwladys Street faithful this weekend.
Not that it has ever bothered Rooney before. And, as he celebrates his 23rd birthday today, the personal milestone would be just perfect.
“For obvious reasons, Saturday is a big game for me,” he said.
“It is always nice for any player to score 100 goals and if I can do that back at Everton, where I started and at Goodison Park, where I scored my first Premier League goal, it would be really pleasing.
“But it wouldn’t really matter if it was my first or my 100th, it would still be really sweet.”
It is incredible to think Rooney has been a top-flight regular for more than six years now.
“It doesn’t feel like six years since I made my Premier League debut,” he said.
“I remember Alan Stubbs telling me to try and enjoy it because time passes more quickly than you think. And it has flown by.
“I just want to try and enjoy every game and every season as much as I can because before too long it will be over.”
Rooney cannot quite put his finger on the transformation from a player effectively dropped by Alex Ferguson for the home game against Bolton less than a month ago to the one that has now scored nine goals in seven games for club and country, including a well-taken effort in the demolition of Celtic at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
“I haven’t got a clue what has changed,” he said.
“I am starting to play a lot higher up the pitch and maybe I am attacking defenders a bit more but the manager always allows you to attack players and create things in the opposition half. That has not changed.
“Obviously, when you score goals you get more confident and try different things. I am starting to run at defenders and commit them a bit more, so maybe that’s it. “I just know I was disappointed my goal ratio slipped from 23 to 18 last season, so I want to get it back into the 20s this season.”
The most obvious aspect that has changed is the arrival and integration of Dimitar Berbatov into Ferguson’s squad. His languid style has already brought accusations of laziness. However, that overlooks the ease with which Berbatov carries out the most difficult of tasks.
Aside from providing Rooney with the perfect example of how to use your energy where and when it matters, the Bulgarian provides extra space in which the Merseysider can give full rein to his own talents.
“Everyone knows about Berbatov,” said Rooney. “He links up play really well and he has a brilliant touch. He gets in positions that gives you a bit more space on the ball.
Celtic defender Mark Wilson admits the sight of Carlos Tevez coming on as a second-half substitute in the Champions League defeat at Manchester United simply confirmed the gulf between the two clubs.
“It’s not great seeing Tevez coming on when your legs are getting weary.
“That’s the way United are though, they have quality in their starting XI, and when you are getting tired, they bring more quality on.”
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