James Lawton: Moyes right to sound warning as Rooney falls under spell of money men

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The Independent Football

Around midday yesterday Wayne Rooney's agent, Paul Stretford, issued a statement guaranteed to chill the blood of anyone with an intelligent interest in the future of the most brilliant young footballer produced in these islands since Paul Gascoigne.

After announcing that Rooney will present a cheque for £75,000 to Alder Hey childrens' hospital following his celebrity 18th birthday party at Aintree racecourse, Stretford goes on to say: "At a time when football is supposedly in the gutter, here is a young man who has come from a tough area who believes that he is in a fortunate position and can put something back. Wayne is using his fame for a cause he is committed to. It's not for himself."

Any benefit to an institution as splendid as Alder Hey is welcome, but if young Wayne is truly dedicated to helping the hospital he would be far better off cancelling this particular cheque and the party for which photographic rights have already been sold to OK magazine, and getting himself into the frame of mind which creates a long and fruitful career - as a footballer rather than a celebrity.

If, as Stretford suggests in his small ragbag of platitudes, Rooney has a strong desire to branch out into philanthropy, here too he would be best served by concentrating on his true talent for playing the game in a way which, at his best, he does quite mesmerisingly.

As the situation stands, it is surely small wonder that the Everton manager, David Moyes, issued his own statement of "concern" on the eve of his protégé's birthday.

It appears that Rooney's parents had the idea of throwing a "do" at the local club. It would have been held among family friends, and youngsters Rooney has grown up with and who can easily separate him from the image now being presented by a team of Stretford's agents. Part of this image-building is this grotesque idea of hiring Aintree and inviting pop stars Robbie Williams and Atomic Kitten. This is not a birthday party. This is the coming-out ball of an 18-year-old celebrity who has, we have learned this so far disappointing season, already enough to do in trying to develop his football.

The "greening" of Rooney is, of course, a quite separate matter from developing his potential as a phenomenal player. Sheer merit is only part of the lure for the big sponsors. There is also that matter of fame. It means that the plot, and the tension for Moyes, was self-evident the moment Rooney's career was taken out of the hands of a local agent and placed with Stretford's big-time Pro-Active group. Who benefits most from the publicity which will flow in such abundance from the Aintree party? Rooney the footballer or Rooney the potential walking advertising hoarding? Alder Hey, it's true, gets a pay-out, but where do the big dividends fall? Into Rooney's growing raft of commercial endorsements.

The conflict between the role of player and commercial property is inevitably huge and was, of course, the main reason why relations between David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson chilled so relentlessly at Old Trafford. Though Beckham's recent statement that his move away from his SFX agents was part of his increased concentration on the challenge of playing football for Real Madrid invited quite as much cynicism as does Stretford's explanation for the impetus behind Rooney's birthday bash, it still made a valuable point. Footballers should properly play football, and any commercial benefits should come from the attention drawn by their prowess on the field and their professional bearing off it. That these rewards can be considerable is surely proved dramatically by the state of Alan Shearer's bank account.

No doubt the Aintree "project" has weighed heavily on Moyes this week, and his statement was carefully drawn along the need for Rooney to stay close to his roots - and his football.

Said Moyes: "He has impressed me with the way he wants to be a footballer and the management problems I have had with him are to do with outside influences. Wayne wants to be talked about for his football, not for endorsements or anything else. Even without endorsements, football can take care of you financially these days and we have tried to make sure he is not involved with too many commercial activities. There have been some great signs from Wayne this season that he has not been changed by all that has happened. But it is important that people who influence him make sure he remains that way."

Hiring one of England's most famous racecourses for a birthday party and bringing in pop stars is no doubt not what Moyes had in mind. Nor will he be uplifted to know that a story line in a new series of Footballers Wives, the television show that makes the fall of the Roman Empire seem like the merest flirtation with decadence, concerns the tribulations of a teenaged virtuoso named Harley and his girlfriend Shannon. The problem, apparently, is Shannon's difficulty in coming terms with the "celebrity lifestyle" of a young football star.

Poor Shannon, poor Harley. Where will salvation lie? Here is one scenario. Shannon retreats into a convent for a little reflection. Harley has a heart-to-heart with his old pro manager and agrees to restrict himself to six OK cover stories a year. He phones up his agent and says that the latest modelling campaign cannot proceed because it might just clash with a possible appearance in the FA Cup final. He further tells his agent that his proposed marriage to Shannon on a silver barge floating down the Mersey is off. Final scene: Harley and Shannon walk down the aisle of their local church, and later are pounded with rice by a gang of unruly cousins and neighbours. They then go to a local pub for celebrations made memorable by a spectacular fist fight.

Yes, I know, it's all completely implausible. And that's why we are bound to tremble for the future of Wayne Rooney, a kid born with such football talent that if he did everything right, he wouldn't have to hire Aintree racecourse. He could buy it.

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