Yesterday, Rooney stood grim-faced as he watched Jack Rodwell glide past Michael Carrick, hold his nerve and slip the ball past Edwin van der Sar to complete Everton's well-deserved win.
As the 18-year-old from Southport, a childhood Everton fan, was embraced by a euphoric Gwladys Road End, he stripped off his shirt and revelled in the acclaim.
The precocity of youth: Everton's Jack Rodwell (right) celebrates
The poise, the confidence on the ball, the precocity of youth were all familiar; Rooney will remember them well.
Of course, this was a game about much more than 88th-minute substitute Rodwell. For a start there was Dan Gosling, the 20-year-old Devonian and a veritable bundle of energy. Then there was Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's stunning equaliser on 20 minutes.
Principally, though, there was Landon Donovan, Steven Pienaar and Leon Osman overwhelming Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Ji-sung Park and Antonio Valencia.
'We were well beaten, simple as that,' said Sir Alex Ferguson. 'There's a possibility that we were tired but we're going for a championship and you expect Manchester United to respond to the importance of the game. In the second half they were better.'
Rooney was unusually subdued on his return to the club who nurtured him and Dimitar Berbatov was his usual enigmatic self. But perhaps most worrying of all, Jonny Evans and Wes Brown looked an accident waiting to happen.
Letting fly: Everton's Diniyar Bilyaletdinov levels for the hosts
Everton may be the best team in the league at present. Though they lost to Liverpool, that is their only setback in 12 games, including a draw at Arsenal and victories over Chelsea and now United.
'It shows we have the capability,' said Everton manager David Moyes. 'We can be a match for most teams.'
Moyes could claim plenty of credit. He had persuaded Donovan, a doubtful starter because of flu, to persevere.
'I told him players tend to play with the flu in England,' said Moyes, so the American conformed to the cultural norm, played and excelled. And the introduction of Moyes's substitutes made a huge impact.
Flying start: Manchester United hail Dimitar Berbatov's opener
'They gave us energy. We know that Dan has a goal in him andthe one thing Jack has is composure and great technique. Breaking onfrom midfield is his position at the moment. He has a little bit to dobefore he is developed. They are both talented, with great potential.We'll try to nudge them along in the right way.'
Unitedstarted well enough, smothering an initially subdued Everton andexploiting the sluggishness of their opponents on 16 minutes whenLeighton Baines failed to prevent Antonio Valencia from crossing.
SylvainDistin compounded the error by misjudging his chance to clear, slicingthe ball to the feet of Berbatov. Just six yards out, there was littledoubt of the outcome: the Bulgarian smashing the ball into the net offthe underside of the bar.
But United diminished in stature.They were exposed within four minutes, when no-one competed for thesecond ball after an Evans header fell to the feet of Bilyaletdinov.
Still,it took a magnificent strike from the Russian, 25 yards out, toequalise. 'A terrific goal and it came at the right time,' said Moyes.
Hard fought: Everton's Landon Donovan is tackled by Duncan Fletcher and Gary Neville
Rooney'smoment might have come on 26 minutes when, played in by Berbatov, hepassed Tim Howard to go through on goal. But he knocked the ball toofar ahead of himself and allowed Phil Neville to usher it out of play.
Thereafter,there was little cheer for United. Even in a frenetic second half, withthe game slipping away, they rarely found the energy to threaten.
TODAY'S TEAMSEverton (4-5-1): Howard; P Neville, Distin, Heitinga, Baines; Donovan, Pienaar (Rodwell 88min), Osman, Bilyaletdinov (Gosling 71), Arteta; Saha.
Subs (not used): Nash, Yobo, Vaughan, Yakubu, Coleman.
Booked: Arteta, Pienaar, Saha, Osman, Rodwell.
Man Utd (4-4-2): Van der Sar; G Neville, Brown, Evans, Evra; Valencia (Owen 81), Carrick, Fletcher, Park (Obertan 66); Berbatov (Scholes 66), Rooney.
Subs (not used): Foster, Vidic, Rafael, Gibson.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).
Fletchershot just wide from close range on 52 minutes, Berbatov went close witha glancing header on 56 minutes and Rooney's 25-yard free-kick wasdeflected wide by Distin on 88 minutes, but there was little more toreport.
Everton, by contrast, were voracious in their appetitefor victory. Biyaletdinov might have scored the second from close rangeon 25 minutes and Donovan certainly should have when he mis-hit a freestrike from six yards on 39 minutes.
But it was hisdelightful exchange of passes with Pienaar on 76 minutes which saw theSouth African deliver a cross behind the United defence, which allowedGosling to score.
And though nerves were tested, Everton had nothing to fear and it was little surprise when Rodwell broke free to add the third.
Asthe youngster celebrated, Rooney stood forlorn in the centre circle,having given the ball away in the first place. Doubtless, the memoriescame flooding back.
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