Stay where you are, Wayne

Beckham's advice to England wonder boy as his club fight to keep him and his boyhood heroes point to perils of stardom
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The Independent Online

It is surely time for some befuddled old High Court judge to ask: "Who is Wayne Rooney?" The laughter would echo not just around old England but all over Europe, where the youngest player ever to score in a European Championship match is becoming the talk of every town. Advice and insights are being sought in television interviews with distant relatives and sports psychologists; and no news conference lasts long before the name of Wayne is heard.

It is surely time for some befuddled old High Court judge to ask: "Who is Wayne Rooney?" The laughter would echo not just around old England but all over Europe, where the youngest player ever to score in a European Championship match is becoming the talk of every town. Advice and insights are being sought in television interviews with distant relatives and sports psychologists; and no news conference lasts long before the name of Wayne is heard.

Yesterday David Beckham was in the chair, marvelling at the way the 18-year-old was "walking round like nothing's happened". England's captain also had some encouragement for Everton fans worried that Chelsea's Roman Abramovich might be sitting on his yacht firing off faxes to Goodison Park with figures like £40m on.

"It's sensible to stay where he's happiest," Beckham said. "If that's at Everton, so be it. He's only 18 and as long as he's at a club that's going to look after him and what's most important to him. I wasn't playing for England at that age. Wayne deserves everything that's been said about him. He's worked hard at his game. At 18 years old, to be performing at this level, the way he is, is very special. We're all thankful he's in our team. As long as he's looked after... he's got a strong family behind him, he'll be around for a long, long time."

Beckham's words will be well received at Goodison, and there were reports last night that financially-strapped Everton, who are offering to treble Rooney's wages of £13,000 a week, would resist lavish overtures from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid ­ only a really outlandish bid would be entertained.

Sven Goran Eriksson has confirmed that Rooney will play against Croatia in tomorrow's final Group B match, despite knowing that another yellow card would rule him out of the quarter-final, assuming England achieve the draw or win they need. "We can't worry about that. Everybody loves him the way he is," Eriksson said. The coach added that he has never considered dropping Liverpool's Michael Owen, who has not scored any of England's last 10 goals and is suddenly being overshadowed by his junior partner.

Rooney himself is gradually becoming more used to facing the microphones. He has told the Football Association's website (www.thefa.com) about how his heroes Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne have helped him: "I've seen Alan Shearer give me some advice on TV and I spoke to Gazza a few weeks ago when he came to Bellefield when we trained and did a session with us. He was telling me to keep going and playing football the way I'm doing. He's been through a lot and obviously his advice can only be good for me."

Thierry Henry, yet to find the net for France at Euro 2004, yesterday joined the gallery of admirers. "Before the tournament started, I warned people to look out for this kid. I think a lot of people were a bit dismissive of what I said because he plays for Everton, but I knew he would have an impact. He's a very special talent and could take the tournament by storm."

Henry has been particularly impressed with the way Rooney has made the most of the lack of space available during games. "People say that I have struggled because the standard of defending in the Premiership is poor," the Arsenal man said said, "but Rooney is scoring and he plays in England. He has had just as little room to manoeuvre as me or any others. He's just made better use of the small gaps that have appeared. All the strikers are having to feed off crumbs."

Sol Campbell, Owen Hargreaves, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard all sat out training yesterday but are expected to be fit. Croatia will bring back ex-Portsmouth defender Boris Zivkovic to mark Beckham. Switzerland striker Alexander Frei was last night charged by Uefa with spitting at Gerrard during the game in Coimbra.

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