Why not take my advice and stick with Everton, son?
An open letter to Wayne Rooney
Monday 28 June 2004
First things first, son, how's the broken bone? We'd all hoped that you'd come home from Portugal next Monday with one foot among the immortals, not last Friday with one foot in plaster.
Still, there's something symbolic about the fact that it's your metatarsal everyone's worrying about. It was David Beckham's metatarsal, you'll recall, that everyone was obsessed with a couple of years ago. Now he can break what he likes. We don't care. Although personally I don't blame him for missing that penalty. He made a much bigger mistake by getting the back of his neck tattooed like that. For that alone he should have been relieved of the England captaincy. Don't go getting your neck tattooed, Wayne, will you?
Wayne, we're both Evertonians, you and I. In fact I met you in the Goodison dressing-room on 19 April last year, just before the Liverpool match. You posed for a photo with my son Joseph, who was the mascot that day, just as you had been the mascot at a Merseyside derby when you were a nipper, although I can't make the comparison stretch much further than that. I don't think Joseph will be setting the world alight when he's 18, not with his footballing ability anyway, although he's not a bad little goalkeeper.
Wayne, it's been strange being an Everton fan this last fortnight or so. Never in my lifetime have we had the hottest property in world football at Goodison Park, not unless you count those few weeks in 1978 when Geoff Nulty ran into a vein of form before running into Jimmy Case. But at Wimbledon last week even Serena Williams declared herself an Everton fan, or at least said that she supported whichever club you played for, which, by the time your foot's better, may or may not be Everton.
Like most Blues, I watched your scintillating performances at Euro 2004 with a mixture of pride and dread. Pride that such an extraordinary talent had been nurtured at Bellefield; dread that it might soon be transferred elsewhere.
There has been a lot of nonsense spouted - some of it, I don't doubt, by Sven - about you needing Champions' League football to evolve into an even better player. But here's the thing, Wayne. You took Portugal by storm, eclipsing even Zinedine Zidane, without ever having played in the Champions' League. You don't need it at all. What you need is another few seasons with Everton, getting knocked out of the domestic cups nice and early to leave you fresh for England matches.
You're only 18, for heaven's sake. You and Colleen have got a lovely house in Formby, with all those sweet little red squirrels nearby. Even when the 2010 World Cup comes round, you'll still only be 24. Whatever that Gary Neville's been saying to you, there's plenty of time to play for Manchester United.
But I suspect that your agent, Paul Stretford, is even now trying to broker a deal with United. You'll certainly be better off there than at Chelsea. There are no red squirrels on Fulham Broadway. And Jose Mourinho looks like a joyless fellow to me.
Whatever happens, Wayne, I hope you'll be happy. The public relations consultant Max Clifford said you should be marketed as a jack the lad, which made me want to go and knock his block off. If you have to be marketed as anything, it should be as an English footballer of rare, perhaps unprecedented ability. And if you do leave Everton this summer, as I suspect you will, I hope your lingering affection for the club will at some point bring you back.
Maybe by then we will be a force again. Maybe, all those millions that we get for you will enable the board to wipe out the debt and David Moyes to haul us back into the top six, where we belong.
I've heard it said that you don't care much for Moyes, even though he is widely credited with managing your burgeoning genius with almost paternal care. If it's true that you don't get on, maybe you should think twice about playing for Sir Alex Ferguson, who is Moyes writ large. Maybe you should go to Chelsea, after all. They will certainly give us more money than anyone else. Roman Abramovich won't miss £75m.
As you can tell, Wayne, I'm hopelessly mixed up about this. And I suspect the chairman, Bill Kenwright, is too. Really, it's a win-win situation.
Either we keep the hottest property in world football or we sell you for a fortune. We can't lose. So why don't I feel happier? Maybe what troubles me is that growing prospect of having to explain to Joseph, whose photo of himself with you is his proudest possession, that you're moving to Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. But don't let that put you off.
All the best, and get well soon.
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