Everton may be forced to cash in on Rooney

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Everton were last night bracing themselves for one of football's big players to make them a bid they cannot refuse for Wayne Rooney, the Merseyside teenager who has lit up the European Championship finals.

Everton were last night bracing themselves for one of football's big players to make them a bid they cannot refuse for Wayne Rooney, the Merseyside teenager who has lit up the European Championship finals.

Officially Everton are telling the world they "have neither received nor would welcome any bid". However, the ailing Premiership club recognise that every player has his price and Rooney's, though rising by the game, will soon be met.

To date, despite speculation concerning Chelsea and Manchester United, Everton have not received a single offer for the 18-year-old but Rooney's success in England's campaign has now proved to Europe's biggest clubs that he can do it at the highest level.

Moreover, Rooney has only two years left on his contract and his advisers, Pro-Active, are yet even to open negotiations on the extension Everton wish to offer. It is thought Rooney is unlikely to sign while David Moyes is manager, as the relationship between the two has broken down, and may not do so in any event.

Everton are prepared to make Rooney the highest-paid player in the club's history, but they cannot match the wages on offer elsewhere. Nor can they offer any immediate prospect of either honours or Champions' League football.

For Everton, a club £35m in debt and needing to move away from their beloved but antiquated Goodison Park, the prospect of Rooney running down his contract is unthinkable. Because of his age they would still receive a fee, but it would not be anything like the price they could realise on the open market.

That latter figure could be as high as £50m, which would be a new world-record fee. It would eclipse the £47.2m Real Madrid paid for Zinedine Zidane who is ­ and this is a measure of the company Rooney now keeps ­ the other main contender to date for Euro 2004's player of the tournament.

"Before the tournament we would probably have considered any offer above £25m," said one club source after admitting "everyone has his price". He added: "We'd now laugh at that. We would not answer the phone until it gets to £40m. Steven Gerrard's a fabulous player, but Rooney wins matches and he is only 18. If Gerrard is worth £32m, what does that make Rooney?"

The feeling at Goodison is that only Roman Abramovich's Chelsea could meet this fee, though Manchester United and a small cluster of Continental clubs, led by Real Madrid, are also contenders. Chelsea asked Everton 18 months ago to keep them informed should Rooney be put on the market.

Everton believe that had Sven Goran Eriksson gone to Chelsea a bid would have been made by now. Jose Mourinho has not discussed Rooney yet but Chelsea will be signing new forwards after none of their current quartet fully convinced last season. None, incidentally, is playing in Euro 2004: Hernan Crespo is Argentinian, while Eidur Gudjohnsen's Iceland and Adrian Mutu's Romania did not qualify, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was not selected by the Dutch. But while they may not be in Portugal, Abramovich is.

A significant figure could be Gerrard. The Liverpool and England midfielder has become one of Rooney's closest friends. Should Gerrard sign for Chelsea, as appears increasingly likely ­ he brusquely refused to discuss the issue yesterday ­ the prospects of Rooney also moving to Stamford Bridge would increase considerably.

Everton would prefer Rooney to stay at Goodison for at least another year and feel it would be beneficial to the player's development. They are also aware that selling Rooney would be a public-relations disaster for the club, especially as season tickets are being sold on the basis that he will be playing in Evertonian blue. Yet they may have little commercial choice, especially if Rooney does not extend his contract.

Bill Kenwright, the chairman, is a lifelong Evertonian who would do almost anything to avoid selling Rooney, but he has to listen to the counsel of Trevor Birch, the club's new chief executive.

Birch has no emotional ties with Everton ­ he is actually a former Liverpool player ­ and merely considers the bottom line. His advice is likely to be to sell Rooney, thus wiping out the debt and still giving Moyes £15m to reinvest in the team. Moyes, though recognising Rooney's unique talent, is aware that his performances for his country far outstrip those for his club and may thus concur.

Rooney's allure was underlined yesterday by his England team-mate, Kieron Dyer. "They always say there is an up-and-coming star in every tournament and he looks the one," the Newcastle United player said.

"He even makes us sit up on the bench. We were laughing when against France he pushed Lilian Thuram on the floor like he was a schoolboy. He is still a boy but he's fearless."