The boy done good. Now Wayne must keep his head while England goes Rooney loony

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The Independent Online

Cometh the hour, cometh the man-child. Every time the England football team plays in a major tournament one player becomes the obsession of the fans. This time Wayne Rooney, an 18-year-old from Everton, is the one bearing the hopes of the nation on his laddish shoulders.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man-child. Every time the England football team plays in a major tournament one player becomes the obsession of the fans. This time Wayne Rooney, an 18-year-old from Everton, is the one bearing the hopes of the nation on his laddish shoulders.

It was David Beckham at the last World Cup, and Paul Gascoigne long before that; and as Rooney-mania swept England and its encampments in Portugal yesterday, his predecessors offered words of advice.

"The most important thing is he keeps his feet on the ground," said Beckham, the England captain and perhaps the most famous footballer on the planet, whose commercial earnings and capacity for attracting attention have long outpaced his footballing ability. "He's a person who walks around the hotel, is quiet and gets on well with the lads," said Beckham of Rooney. "He's an exceptional talent. The players knew that before the tournament but now Europe is finding out about Rooney."

Rooney's two goals against Switzerland helped to make him the player of Euro 2004 so far, prompting speculation that Everton might be forced to sell him for a world record £50m. Serious commentators and former players have compared him to Pele and Maradona. And Paul Gascoigne.

"I don't want Wayne to make the mistakes I did," said the former England star. "He faces the same hysteria." Gascoigne was feted after the Italia 90 World Cup but his career was wrecked by injury and what one manager euphemistically called "refuelling problems".

Gascoigne and Alan Shearer were Rooney's idols as a schoolboy (not so long ago) and the Football Association invited them to spend time with Rooney before Euro 2004 to offer guidance.

More than 70 per cent of the viewing audience watched the end of the Switzerland match, a total of 17 million viewers, not including the many watching in pubs. Supermarket beer sales in England doubled last week to 46 million litres. Yet when England play Croatia on Monday night there may be up to 3,000 empty seats in the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon.

The FAhas had trouble selling the tickets through its membership organisation and cannot offer them on the open market because of the restrictions it employs to combat hooliganism.

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