By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer
Wayne Rooney celebrated his arrival on the football stage by revealing a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Once a Blue Always a Blue".
It was a 16-year-old's public symbol of lifelong allegiance to his club - but Rooney may just get a reminder of that ill-fated gesture on Saturday after what Evertonians regards as one of the greatest acts of betrayal on Saturday.
He returns to Everton in the FA Cup fifth round tie for the first time since leaving for Manchester United in a £27m deal after his stunning performances for England in Euro 2004.
Rooney, who is expected to start, will be guaranteed a reception boiling over with hostility by those who idolised him and regarded him as the shining symbol of the future.
Everton have called for calm, but Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is unlikely to dilute a volatile cocktail of emotions by keeping Rooney in wraps for the Champions League game with AC Milan.
And yet an examination of the evidence since Rooney's departure suggests, when emotion is set aside, that the deal contained elements that suited all parties.
THE TRANSFER FEE
Newcastle United's sudden, ultimately fruitless entry, into the Rooney transfer chase in August forced Manchested United to bring their interest forward by 12 months.
They were happy to wait until summer 2005, but Newcastle forced their hand and enabled Everton to drive a harder bargain.
Everton negotiated a fee that could eventually reach £27m, receiving £10m in August and another £10m on 1 August 2005.
A further £3m will follow if Rooney is still a United player by 30 June 2007.
Further payments could follow based on whether he renews his contract, and also depending on his appearances at international level.
It effectively blew a hole in United's transfer fund for next summer, but Ferguson felt it was a price worth paying.
For Everton, it helped to stabilise a financial crisis and gives manager David Moyes room for manouevre in the transfer market.
On this deal, the price was right for both clubs - if Moyes is allowed to spend the cash.
Only those with a flimsy grasp of football would say Everton have not missed Wayne Rooney, but the Premiership table presents a compelling case to suggest the removal of a world-class superstar has given others the freedom to step forward.
Everton occupy fourth place in the Premiership, with a style built around a lone-striker system occupied by Marcus Bent.
The remaining weeks of the campaign, and whether Everton qualify for Europe, will provide the test of how serious the sale of Rooney - and indeed Thomas Gravesen - has hit them.
For Manchester United, Rooney's unpredictable brilliance has added an element of fantasy to an already star-studded line-up.
And with his European reputation already established, Rooney could yet give Ferguson that extra spark he needs to claim another Champions League title. That would pay for the deal in one glorious swoop.
David Moyes had an uneasy relationship with Rooney - an almost inevitable result of a headstrong teenager in the spotlight playing for a manager who wants things done his way, and his way alone.
Rooney and Moyes had an occasionally strained relationship
But it was not the key factor in his departure, and Moyes used Rooney's sale to foster an almost unbreakable team spirit that has made Everton's season such a success.
Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, got the chance to get his hands on another jewel in the English football crown and use his vast experience to Manchester United's benefit.
Ferguson's track record suggests Rooney is in safe hands.
Rooney claimed he was "gutted" by the way Everton handled his departure, hinting at attempts to blacken his name, but he handed in a transfer request and barely uttered the club's name after Euro 2004.
This fuelled speculation about his future and his refusal to sign a £50,000-a-week contract confirmed Everton's worst fears.
He will sadly be a reviled figure by most of Goodison Park now, and yet in career terms it was the perfect move for the boyhood blue.
And everything that has happened since he left Everton will confirm in Rooney's mind that he made the right decision.
He has starred in the Champions League, will face AC Milan in the next round and is in magnificent form as United chase down Chelsea in the Premiership.
Rooney was an iconic figure at Everton - a symbol for the fans and the prime marketing asset for every piece of merchandise at the club. Everton's megastore had an entire section devoted to Rooney.
Some still feel he was forced out of Goodison, but they are in a very small minority and he is regarded with much bitterness on the blue half of Merseyside.
Manchester United fans, in contrast, believe they have claimed England's finest talent, and they are unlikely to be slow to remind their Everton counterparts of that fact.
They have not just claimed the marketing opportunites, they have claimed football's real deal.
Rooney's arrival has not quite removed all the "anti-scouser" songs from their extensive repetoire.
But there will be one scouser who will have to rely on visiting supporters for compliments when he returns to the turf where he made his name.