Rooney targets 100th goal at Everton

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The Independent Football

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 tomorrow, 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. Little wonder he was asked on England duty a couple of weeks ago whether he viewed himself as a father figure to Theo Walcott.

The statement brought a wry smile and a reminder of his age, although he is starting to appreciate his gifts a bit more.

"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."

Barring some unexpected mishap, Rooney could be terrorising defences for a decade yet, which, by current standards, is a frightening prospect for anyone.

The England hitman cannot quite put his finger on the transformation from a player effectively dropped by Sir 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 last 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 than I was 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.

At first glance, the Bulgarian is a total opposite to Rooney's hustle and bustle.

His languid style has already brought accusations of laziness.

However, such observations overlook 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 £30.75million man 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.

"He is settling in really well and hopefully he can start scoring as well."

Not that Rooney sees Carlos Tevez as a loser in the battle for a starting spot.

Ferguson admitted earlier this week he had considered whether it was possible to play his three front-line attacking stars in the same side and pointed out Tevez would have played against West Brom on Saturday if he had not been so late returning from World Cup duty with Argentina.

"I feel sorry for Carlos," said Rooney.

"He is a world-class player and I really enjoy playing with him.

"Unfortunately, he has not started the last few games. But he is a top player and I am sure when he gets his chance, he will take it."