Kleberson, Bellion & historical quirks: Remembering Rooney’s last visit to Old Trafford

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Manchester United's record goalscorer will be back in familiar surroundings on Sunday as he returns to the Theatre of Dreams as an Everton player

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Some 14 years ago, back in the winter of 2003, a certain Wayne Rooney was readying himself for a run-out at Old Trafford.

Man Utd 13/2 to beat Everton 3-0

Back then, the precociously-gifted teenager was on the books at Everton and just a few months on from becoming England’s youngest-ever goalscorer – the first of what would become a record-breaking haul for his country.

Fast forward back to the present and the now 31-year-old forward is preparing for another appearance at the Theatre of Dreams.

For much of the space in-between these two points in history, Manchester United’s imposing ground was considered to be home for Rooney – with a memorable stint with the Red Devils cementing his standing as an iconic figure of the modern era.

He is, of course, now back at boyhood club Everton and will be stepping into the away dressing area when back in familiar surrounds on Saturday - with Juan Mata saying of his return: “It will be weird to see Wayne playing with a different shirt, to be honest, but this is the decision he made last summer and we wish him the best of luck.”

Juan Mata Wayne Rooney Everton

Rooney has taken a locker in that particular room at club level on just two previous occasions, the most recent of which was the aforementioned outing on Boxing Day 2003.

It is fair to say that much has changed since then, both for the player himself and the respective teams involved.

Again, though, if you read between the lines then history can be found to repeat itself.

The Manchester United team which took to the field that day was one shaped by a summer of rebuilding overseen by Sir Alex Ferguson in an effort to get the Red Devils past the Premier League finishing post in first place.

Much like Jose Mourinho today, money was spent addressing apparent weaknesses in the ranks.

A striker was brought on board (see Romleu Lukaku in 2017) and a highly-rated holding midfielder (Nemanja Matic ticking that particular box this time around).

United were also heavily linked with one Cristiano Ronaldo, with their efforts in 2003 proving to be more successful than those in the present day as, rather than being left on the shelf as a much-discussed move failed to materialise, the enigmatic Portuguese was snapped up for a little over £12 million.

Manchester United v Everton Dec 2003

Of the new boys Ferguson welcomed into the fold that summer, all five were handed starting berths against Rooney’s Everton in front of a post-Christmas full house in Manchester.

At the time, the Red Devils had full faith in those at their disposal, but their XI looks rather bemusing now with the benefit of hindsight.

Ronaldo started on the right flank for United, with fellow signing Kleberson alongside him in midfield.

Elsewhere, Tim Howard took up a post between the sticks, while David Bellion led the line and Eric Djemba-Djemba was introduced off the bench.

By full-time, United’s team sheet read: Howard, G Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre (Djemba-Djemba), O’Shea (Scholes), Ronaldo, Butt, Kleberson, Fortune, Forlan, Bellion.

Kleberson and Bellion were actually among the goals, with their two efforts on the day representing a third of the collective total they managed in Premier League competition throughout two rather forgettable spells at Old Trafford.

Rooney, meanwhile, was unable to trouble the scorers and lasted 70 minutes before being replaced.

Wayne Rooney Manchester United Everton goals

A 3-2 defeat is one piece of history that he will be hoping to change this weekend when he trades red for blue once more, but United will be looking for more of the same.

The side Mourinho sends into top-flight battle will likely include a number of his big-money additions, and he would happily settle for a two-goal showing from Matic and Lukaku if it were offered to him at this stage.

The Portuguese will also be determined to see Rooney kept quiet once more – not to prove any kind of point to a departed hero, but to ensure that the home support are given no cause to get sentimental once any pre-game fanfare is out of the way.

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Victory for United will allow them to cement their standing at the top of the early Premier League table, but yet again there is a lesson from history to be learned here.

Ferguson’s team swept to the summit on the back of their Boxing Day triumph over the Toffees, but they ended the campaign down in third place – as part of a three-year wait for title success – and unable to progress past the last 16 of the Champions League.

Signings must be held partially responsible for that barren spell, so Mourinho must ensure that his deliver greater tangible reward and that there is no happy homecoming for Rooney which threatens to send the class of 2017-18 heading in the same direction as 2003-04.

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