By Stanley Kwenda | BBC Sport |
Wayne Rooney mania has gripped East Africa as England’s record goal-scorer makes his first appearance for Everton since his return to the side at a historic match shortly in Tanzania.
Rooney has been the centre of attention since Everton flew into Tanzania on Wednesday for a friendly.
“Rooney, Rooney, Rooney,” fans chanted as the team bus arrived at their hotel.
Tanzania’s vice-president said she was not sure whether to switch allegiance from his old club, Manchester United.
Everton’s Mo Besic, Tom Davies and newly-signed Michael Keane joined Albino United in a training session in the coastal city of Dar es Salaam, soon after they landed.
The visit was aimed at helping to break the stigma against people with albinism who risk being killed in Tanzania.
“From spending time with them today, I have learnt that the players go through some tough times. It’s not easy for them over here,” Keane was quoted by the Everton website as saying.
“It’s good that they can enjoy football and look forward to playing together. You can see their coach is really good with them,” he added.
Everton are due to play a friendly against Kenya’s reigning Premier League champions Gor Mahia.
It will be the English Premier League side’s first ever game in the East African state.
Local fans and those who have travelled from Kenya are expected to fill the 60,000-seat stadium in Dar es Salaam.
The Kenyan side earned the right to play Everton after winning the regional SportPesa Super Cup, which pitted teams from Tanzania against those from Kenya.
Kenyan betting firm SportPesa sponsors both Kenya’s and Tanzania’s top-flight leagues.
In May, Everton confirmed SportPesa as the club’s new shirt sponsor.
Everton have been given royal treatment since they arrived in the East African state.
The wild chants for Rooney, along with stomping performances by Maasai cultural dancers, created a spectacle to behold.
Everton’s Democratic Republic of Congo winger Yannick Bolasie rivalled Rooney, England’s former captain, in the popularity stakes with a band of Congolese fans welcoming him to Tanzania.
They were draped in T-shirts emblazoned with his face.
However, Rooney, who has rejoined Everton after 13 years at Manchester United, was the fans’ favourite.
Even Tanzania’s Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan attested to this.
“Wayne Rooney made me support Manchester United and now I don’t know what to do because he has gone back to Everton,” she said.
Rooney replied: “Being here, it has been a new experience for me and I hope the vice-president will now be able to support Everton. It’s great to be back at Everton and I hope for more success.”
Fans are buoyed by the prospect of seeing Rooney in action.
“Everyone in East Africa heard Everton is coming to Tanzania and they all want to see Wayne Rooney because he is a famous player, he is a good player,” said Kassim Nyagogo, a fan who captured the public sentiment.
“Everyone has been asking: ‘Is Wayne Rooney coming?’ And you see the security here, it’s all because of Wayne Rooney. I am going to make history by seeing Wayne Rooney today,” he added.
He is not alone in the excitement.
Another fan, Eleneza Nhlanganzero, said: “A lot of people are excited by seeing Wayne Rooney. He’s a big player and he will inspire a lot of people to come to the stadium and watch the game.”
Whatever happens in the match, Rooney has been the biggest winner from this trip, with taxi drivers, dancers, businessmen and government officials all gripped by Rooney mania.