Ferguson in bid for 'fabulous' Rooney

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The pursuit of Wayne Rooney became serious last night as Everton confirmed Manchester United had tabled a £20m bid for the England striker.

The pursuit of Wayne Rooney became serious last night as Everton confirmed Manchester United had tabled a £20m bid for the England striker.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, last night said: "We've made a bid today ­ he's a fabulous player, he showed that at Euro 2004 ­ and is a young player. He's not the finished article yet, but we've got experience of bringing young players to the club and bringing them on."

Although the size of the fee means the Goodison Park board will reject the offer ­ just as they turned down Newcastle's £20m bid on Monday ­ the size of the club cannot be ignored.

It has always been understood that Old Trafford is the preferred destination of the 18-year-old Rooney and that of his agent, Paul Stretford, and United can be expected to increase the offer before the transfer window closes on Tuesday.

The Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, has indicated he will accept a minimum of £25m and is keen to settle the matter as quickly as possible.

It is only the timing of the move that is a real surprise. It had been expected Manchester United would wait until the January transfer window before moving, which would have allowed Rooney's price to fall since he would then have a year and a half left on his contract and the shadow of a transfer tribunal would have begun to fall over Goodison Park.

On Tuesday, Ferguson stated that further transfer activity was "unlikely" while his chief executive, David Gill, had offered mild criticism of United's history of rushed signings.

Gill has always maintained that Manchester United would not go into the realms of bids above £30m. Nevertheless, they have the capacity to go higher than their initial offer and have players to exchange, most notably Louis Saha.

With Alan Smith having impressed Ferguson with his attitude since arriving from Leeds and Ruud van Nistelrooy inviolable, it is hard to see a major role for the Frenchman with Rooney in United's squad.

On Monday, Rooney informed his manager, David Moyes, who was in the directors' box at Old Trafford for their Champions' League qualifier with Dinamo Bucharest, that he wished to leave Goodison.

However, the club has yet to receive a written transfer request from Stretford and would, for public relations' reasons, prefer to have one before moving on any deal. Everton have still to receive a reply to their offer of a new contract that would increase Rooney's contract from £13,000 to £50,000-a-week and now no longer expect one.

Although they have angrily denied accusations of conspiracy, United's move gives credence to the theory that Newcastle's bid was simply designed to kick-start an auction for Rooney's services.

The Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, whose son Kenny works for Stretford, has insisted that he would not increase his offer above £20m and he knows he cannot compete with United in any bidding war and nor can he give Rooney Champions' League football. The teenager would also not have to leave the north-West.

The bid from St James' Park was also unrealistic given that they had four specialist centre-forwards and had just signed Patrick Kluivert on a salary of £3.3m to act as Alan Shearer's long-term replacement.

"We don't want to lose Wayne, but if we do, the only way is at the top price and the value we want," Moyes said.

"I would like to quote Bobby Robson's words: 'You're talking about buying the most exciting, brilliant young player in Europe'.

"If that is what Sir Bobby thinks, then he's got to pay the most exciting and brilliant price because his current valuation is well short."

Rooney, who comes from Liverpool's Croxteth district, first hit the headlines in October 2002 by ending a 30-match unbeaten run for Arsenal with a superb run and shot as a 16-year-old substitute.

He soon became a first-team regular and became the youngest England international when he turned out in a friendly defeat by Australia in February 2003 at the age of 17. Rooney followed that up by setting another record in September of that year as England's youngest ever scorer, still 17, in a Euro 2004 qualifying win over Macedonia.

Rooney sparkled at Euro 2004, scoring four goals before limping out of England's quarter-final defeat by Portugal after breaking a bone in his foot, an injury that is still keeping him on the sidelines.

Last weekend, however, he created headlines of another kind when Sunday newspapers carried lurid reports of him visiting prostitutes and massage parlours.

United also confirmed that their captain, Roy Keane, had suffered two cracked ribs and will be out of action for three weeks.

Ferguson said: "He has been in a bit of pain the last two or three games and it is too big a risk to play him now. We took him for a scan and it [the injury] was much more pronounced than before. If he took a bang in a game he could puncture a lung and that could put him out for months."

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