Rooney ready for full glare

Wonderboy hopes to avoid the pitfalls as well as he fields the awkward questions about his temper and his weight
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The Independent Online

He appears for interview flanked by half a dozen minders, from the Football Association, Everton, his agent's office and even the England squad in the shape of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard. Yet Wayne Rooney, aged 18 years and eight months, looks more than capable of taking care of himself. So it proves, in the first of what are likely to be many media jousts over the years.

He appears for interview flanked by half a dozen minders, from the Football Association, Everton, his agent's office and even the England squad in the shape of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard. Yet Wayne Rooney, aged 18 years and eight months, looks more than capable of taking care of himself. So it proves, in the first of what are likely to be many media jousts over the years.

Michael Parkinson and Jonathan Ross will not be rushing to have him on the show just yet - unless they fancy a challenge - but he has a go and answers all questions allowed by the FA's minder-in-chief. The one query he struggles with runs: "If you hadn't made it as a footballer, do you have any idea what you might have been doing with your life now?" Answer, with an apologetic shrug: "I haven't got a clue."

We ease him in slowly, a gentle full toss first to get off the mark. Wayne, when you first broke into the team did you imagine within two years you'd be an England regular? And he sweeps it gratefully to the boundary: "No, not really, it's all happened so quick. I got in the England first team and I've been in a few squads now, so hopefully I can stay in the squad."

He's off and running, earning an occasional approving smile from all concerned, without ever quite threatening to deliver the equivalent of that 25-yarder into the top corner of the net against Iceland last Saturday. "I think there is a lot of expectation on us as a team but I think we've got a good enough squad to go out there with a chance to win it. I think the French are a very good team so I think we've just got to go out there and all of us be at the top of our game."

Rooney looked a long way from his peak on a bad night against Japan at the City of Manchester stadium in the recent summer tournament, but found himself against Iceland four days later, the first goal bringing back the confidence essential to his game that led to the spectacular second. That means going into the tournament with a record of five goals from 13 internationals, a significant improve-ment on an Everton tally of 17 in 77 games (many, admittedly, as a substitute), the number of goals inferior to the number of yellow cards handed out in two seasons for some ill-judged tackles and belligerent protests.

That is one of the areas where Gerrard feels he might come in handy, using all the wisdom and experience of his 24 years: "When I came into the squad I was a little naïve and didn't know what it was all about, and I was lucky to have four or five players from my club around. Wayne came from Everton all on his own so I'm always there for him, I'm around to help him all through his career if I'm still there myself."

Other Evertonians being thin on the ground around the England camp, Rooney appreciated the support of a fellow Scouser: "He'd come knocking on my door asking me to go and play table tennis or whatever. When I first joined the squad that was a big thing for me, because it got me out of my room and helped me to relax a bit more." Another significant influence is his significant other, Colleen: "My girlfriend doesn't let me think I am what I'm not really. She won't let me get big-headed."

She sounds capable too of keeping closer tabs on him than many a centre-half, which should help him sidestep some of the traps Gerrard admits falling into as a young man on Merseyside with money in his pocket: "I think Wayne can avoid those kind of things. It was well documented when I was out till four or five the night before one game, was socialising with friends when I should have been in my apartment with my feet up. The biggest advice I can give Wayne is that you're not just judged on your football, it's how you behave on and off the field."

That will inevitably include the delicate matter of contract negotiations with his boyhood club, currently stalled, in which he must retain the backing of Everton supporters without appearing greedy or disloyal. The subject is strictly off-limits today, but it is time to test the boy at last with a bouncer.

Wayne, as a physically powerful young man, everyone remarked that later on you might pay the consequence of that and put on too much weight - are you aware of that? He sees it coming a mile off: "I think my strength is a big part of my game so I'm not going to go on a diet to try to lose weight or anything. I want to be as strong as possible, and if it means getting a bit of criticism in the papers about my weight, so be it."

And he looks up with a rather challenging glare that, who knows, might even disconcert a Lilian Thuram or a Mikaël Silvestre in Lisbon this evening.

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