Newcastle ahead in race for Rooney

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Newcastle emerged as serious candidates to win the battle for Wayne Rooney last night after Everton rejected Manchester United's offer of £20m for the striker's services.

Newcastle emerged as serious candidates to win the battle for Wayne Rooney last night after Everton rejected Manchester United's offer of £20m for the striker's services.

Although Rooney, who is now anxious to quit Merseyside as quickly as possible following revelations about his private life and bust-ups with his manager, David Moyes, is still favourite to end up at Old Trafford, Newcastle are becoming an increasingly attractive destination for the player and his advisers.

Newcastle have increased their offer to £23.5m, are prepared to pay the transfer fee mainly in cash and may offer players in part-exchange. Craig Bellamy, who on Wednesday said he would leave St James' Park if Rooney arrived on Tyneside, could be part of the deal but Everton are likely to be more interested in Shola Ameobi, who signed a new five-year contract in the summer.

The motives behind Newcastle's bid have until now been murky. Their first offer was greeted with derision on Tyneside, mainly because they already had four specialist centre-forwards and were in dire need of a centre-half following the sale of Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid.

The relationship between Rooney's agent, Paul Stretford, and the Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, is open to question since Shepherd's son, Kenny, works for Stretford's Proactive Group.

However, Newcastle angrily denied that Monday's offer was a stunt to detract criticism from the board following Woodgate's sale, and yesterday's developments appear to bear them out.

Although Manchester United are outwardly confident of securing Rooney by increasing their offer to the £25m that could be acceptable to Everton, the contest may not have a foregone conclusion.

Both Everton and Rooney are increasingly anxious to conclude a deal before Tuesday's transfer deadline. The relationship between the 18-year-old striker and Moyes appears close to complete breakdown.

On Monday, Rooney informed his manager he wished to leave Goodison Park, which was followed on Wednesday by a furious row in which the striker accused Moyes of indicating to the Merseyside media that he wanted to go for "personal reasons". The Sun newspaper, which earned Rooney ferocious criticism when he signed an exclusive contract with the paper worth £250,000, has now turned on their former client, making lurid allegations about his relationship with prostitutes.

Rooney, who has still not recovered from the broken foot he sustained during England's Euro 2004 quarter-final with Portugal, has taken to driving to a service station in a van before being driven to training in Stretford's car.

One Everton insider confirmed that there had been bust-ups between Moyes and Rooney, but said the player was determined to leave his home city in the wake of the revelations about his personal life. "We are doing everything we can to try to keep Wayne at Everton but he seems desperate to leave the city of Liverpool. But we will do all we can to keep him, even now." The source said Rooney and his advisers were taking the Newcastle offer increasingly seriously.

Some of the money brought in from Rooney's sale would be given to Moyes to bring in new recruits. A formal offer has already been made for Liverpool's Djimi Traoré with his teammate Steve Finnan another target. Moyes is also likely to renew his interest in Birmingham midfielder Robbie Savage, and fancies Southampton striker James Beattie. Kenwright announced a new funding package yesterday evening, so new signings are not now entirely dependent on the Rooney deal.

Kenwright said he secured "alternative funding" separate from the proposed £20m investment by Anton Zingarevich, son of a Russian millionaire. Everton have not specified the source of this funding.

Bellamy's relationship with Sir Bobby Robson is also in dire need of a sticking plaster after he said: "If Wayne Rooney comes, I will have to review my position because I am not sitting on the bench anywhere." The Welshman's remark left the Newcastle manager almost incoherent with anger: "What Craig Bellamy should do is honour his contract. At the moment, he is doing too much talking. What does he want to do? Does he want to be the manager or does he want to be a player?"

If Manchester United believe the lure of Champions' League football would be enough to bring Rooney to Old Trafford, Newcastle may have a trump card in Alan Shearer, whom Rooney grew up idolising. Rooney has said that Shearer would be his ideal strike partner.

"I think Newcastle would be a good move for him," Shearer said yesterday. "He is only 18 and if he wants to go to Real Madrid or anywhere else in three or four years' time, he will still be only 22. I think it will be a great investment for this football club, I really do." Shearer added a partial rebuke to Bellamy. "You have got to make exceptions for the likes of Wayne Rooney if he takes someone's place because he is an exceptional talent."

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