THERE were 4,869 days between Wayne Rooney’s winner against Stoke and his previous goal for Everton.
And the most remarkable aspect was Rooney — the only ‘street footballer’ to use hair-replacement therapy and look like he has had Botox — appeared younger on Saturday than when he left for Manchester United as a teenager.
But all bitching aside, he suddenly looks capable of slapping down us press-box cynics, as well as many well-placed sceptics inside football — including Gareth Southgate.
The England manager has not selected the striker since his extreme bout of thirstiness at the team hotel, a night after the 3-0 defeat of Scotland last November.
Rooney has not been cold-shouldered specifically because of that indiscipline; it was simply seen as an indication of a player who’d conceded his best days were behind him.
Southgate has refused to publicly rule out a comeback, remembering Steve McClaren’s U-turn on ending David Beckham’s international career, once England’s Euro 2008 qualifying campaign began to vanish down the Swanee.
Privately Southgate had removed England’s all-time record goalscorer from his plans, to such an extent he has been preparing to name Harry Kane as his permanent successor as captain next week.
In January, the Three Lions boss had been told to expect Rooney departing Old Trafford for the Chinese Super League.
And even earlier this summer, it had looked unlikely that Ronald Koeman would rubber-stamp a sentimental move to re-sign Goodison Park’s prodigal son.
Rooney seemed a busted flush, a high-mileage 31-year-old without the single-mindedness required to revive a flagging career.
Now one performance, capped by a headed goal of supreme technique, does not spell a glorious resurrection.
But all indications are the player has rediscovered his focus and his mojo since returning to his boyhood club.
Toffees chief Koeman was sceptical about whether Rooney was still capable of operating as a regular Premier League starter, after his struggles at United last term. But Rooney’s pre-season changed the Dutchman’s mind — and his goal against Stoke raised Southgate’s eyebrows.
Next week when he selects his squad to face Malta and Slovakia in the World Cup qualifiers, Southgate faces a true dilemma.
An injury to Adam Lallana has robbed him of one of his two preferred No 10s — Dele Alli being the other — which further increases Rooney’s chances.
This qualifying campaign is not the cakewalk we’d expected.
Should England fail to win both of next month’s matches, their participation in Russia next summer will genuinely be in the balance heading into the October double-header against Slovenia and Lithuania.
The problem for Southgate is that a new generation of England players, many of whom worked under him at Under-21 level, appreciate his decision to omit Rooney, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott last term.
There was a widespread belief among England players that, under Roy Hodgson, some players were being selected on reputation rather than form. And when it all went pear-shaped in France last summer, fingers were pointed at the inclusion of an unfit Wilshere and of Rooney being crowbarred into central midfield when incoming United boss Jose Mourinho was adamant that he would never be a No 8.
Under Southgate, it seemed the last vestiges of the failed Golden Generation era had been swept away. So having planned to herald a new era by anointing Kane as captain, what to make of Rooney’s romantic resurgence?
He will be monitored in Monday’s visit to Manchester City — where another fine display really would increase the temptation to include him.
Rooney is desperate to claim the seven caps needed to surpass Peter Shilton’s all-time England record of 125 appearances.
It would be wise, though, for Southgate to trust his instincts, to put his faith in younger players and leave Rooney as an emergency option for October, in the case of a slip-up next month.
Yet he can’t help to have been intrigued by the sight of Rooney scoring so impressively and celebrating with the facial expression of one who has rediscovered the wide-eyed wonderment of his youth.
Unless he really has had cosmetic surgery . . .
ANTONIO CONTE admitted his Chelsea players “lost their heads” as they went 3-0 down at home to Burnley following Gary Cahill’s harsh sending-off.
Yet who could have set the tone for such a blatant cut-off-nose-to-spite-face petulance?
The man . . . who had texted his leading scorer that he was no longer required and who moans about a lack of bodies at a club that sends 37 players out on loan?
The man . . . who has yet to start with his sharp-looking £65million striker Alvaro Morata?
And the man . . . who tossed away the Community Shield at Wembley this month by sending his goalkeeper to take the second spot-kick of the shootout?
Over to you, Sherlock.
DANNY ROSE’S interview with The Sun – the content of which he does not regret and will not apologise for – brought some unflattering comparisons with one of his predecessors as England left-back, Ashley Cole.
Back in 2006, Cole infamously wrote that he almost swerved off the road in disbelief when hearing that Arsenal were offering him ‘only’ £55,000 per week.
The average Premier League wage has almost quadrupled since, so Cole would have been scoffing at the equivalent of a £200,000 weekly wage.
Rose earns £65,000 per week at Tottenham and while that may only merit a sad song on the world’s smallest violin, it’s an indication that Rose is right to argue he isn’t being paid the going rate.
BRENDAN RODGERS spent much of his Liverpool reign fighting off suggestions that he should employ a specialist defensive coach.
Jurgen Klopp, darling of the Kop, has escaped similar pleas — despite his team’s remarkable inability to defend set-pieces. The problem, which flared up again during the 3-3 draw at Watford, is zonal marking.
And it’s not just us laymen who find this concept difficult to comprehend.
This week, two former Premier League bosses have told me there is a fundamental flaw in any tactical plan based on the idea that your team doesn’t pay full attention to what the other lot are doing.
IT’S 14 years since Huddersfield Town descended into the Football League’s basement division with a 5-1 thrashing at Port Vale.
For a few hours at the weekend the Terriers, owned by the boss of a greetings card chain rather than an Arab emirate, were top of the richest league on Earth.
There were disbelieving looks on the faces of Town supporters as they watched a 3-0 away win at Crystal Palace on their Premier League debut.
It suggested they remembered that journey back from Vale Park in 2003 and that they were enjoying this all the more as a result.
THE early signs are that Jose Mourinho has finally assembled a proper Mourinho team at Manchester United, while Pep Guardiola is now in possession of a proper Guardiola outfit at City.
Guardiola has an advantage in head-to-heads against his old foe — leading by eight wins to four.
Yet a proper big old Mourinho team ought to accumulate more points than a proper pretty little Guardiola outfit over a 38-match Premier League campaign.
FROM his South American bolthole, Diego Costa claims that Chelsea are treating him like a “criminal”.
And doubtless, he is spot on. Didn’t Ronnie Biggs spend his fugitive years partying with the Brazilian carnival queens?