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Friday, June 25, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Rooney's performance could spell trouble for Everton


LONDON -- The suspicion is that it will all end in tears.

Christopher Davies

At the moment Wayne Rooney is the toast of England after his goals did much to set up the memorable Euro 2004 quarterfinal against host Portugal in Lisbon, but the teenager may find, as Paul Gascoigne did, that talent alone is not enough on Planet Football.

Rooney has been front- and back-page news in England and in many other countries. Move over David Beckham, there is a new kid on the block, though the marketing men will find Rooney far more difficult to sell as an image than the England captain.

While Beckham has the sort of looks that sit comfortably in glossy magazines, Rooney's craggy features -- he is from boxing stock -- are not designed to make girls go weak at the knees.

Beckham has worked hard at speaking to the media and is happy in front of a posse of reporters. Rooney, a product of working-class Liverpool, does not have the confidence to speak to the press pack -- indeed, after the game against Switzerland even the English media had problems understanding his heavy Scouse accent.

A Spanish reporter asked an English colleague what "me ed" meant.

Rooney had said something along the lines of "when the ball 'it me 'ead" as in "hit my head."

Some joke that he speaks Scouse with a trace of English, but Rooney is happiest letting his football do the talking which has been heard loud and clear in Portugal. The Everton striker did not have the best of domestic seasons as his club battled to stay in the Premiership, but surrounded by better players Rooney has been one of Euro 2004's revelations.

He has pace, power, strength and skill -- while big names such as Spain's Raul and Christian Vieri of Italy made little impression at the finals, Rooney has had England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson, probably unwisely, comparing him to Pele.

At 18, Rooney is the new idol of English football, though he needs protection in a business where the media spotlight is unrelenting.

Rooney is a simple soul with the word "then" tattooed on his back.

One of his best pals has a tattoo which reads "OK" on his back because most sentences between them end with "OK then . . . "

His engagement party ended with an inter-family brawl and there have been other similar negative stories, such as the Rooney family home being paint-bombed, concerning the wonderkid.

Gascoigne, a likable character who needed guidance, was taken advantage of by too many people who saw him as a meal ticket, an easy path to a quick buck.

It proved costly for Gazza who has battled drug addiction, depression and divorce.

One hopes those who look after Rooney will ensure he does not end up like Gascoigne, now a sad figure fighting for credibility, his vast earnings disappeared somewhere, somehow.

Rooney's priority will be to sort out his club future. The more successful he becomes the more of a problem it could be for Everton -- as much to hold on to the England striker as sell him.

Football logic dictates that the outstanding player of a major finals cannot play for a team whose priority the following season will be survival rather than success.

Yet Everton's finances are so precarious -- they are almost £5 million in debt -- that selling Rooney is likely to create more problems for the Merseysiders than keeping their prized asset.

Rooney is the sort of English galactico that Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich would love at Stamford Bridge next season as the Jose Mourinho era kicks off.

No English player has a higher profile at the moment and Rooney fits the Abramovich profile for the star-studded Chelsea the Russian craves.

Everton manager David Moyes has said that there are only two teams where Rooney could go -- Real Madrid and Chelsea though the Spaniards do not have the financial clout of the London club and at 18, the striker is probably too young to move abroad.

Let us fast forward Rooney's career by a few weeks and say he signs with Chelsea for a huge amount. The sum would ease Everton's cash flow troubles, help them finance their new ground and spend on replacements.

On the face of it, good business.

Except that Everton could not meet the wage demands of Leeds' Dominic Matteo so bringing in, for example, five or six players with the Rooney cash would put another £50,000 or so a week on the Goodison Park wage bill for the next three or four years.

Even with the money for Rooney, that could send Everton over the financial brink.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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