Rooney to reach deal over debts

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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney is determined to reach some form of agreement with the bookmakers who claim he owes them £700,000, although he does not know the identity of the man who took most of the bets that have landed him in such serious debt.

The man working on behalf of the bookmaker Stephen Smith, who dealt with Rooney's account, was known only as "Michael" to the 20-year-old and his testimony will be central to the dispute over how much is owed.

The betting with Smith, a business associate of Rooney's fellow England striker Michael Owen, took place in such a casual manner over the six months up to Christmas that Rooney is still unsure exactly how much he owes.

The claims of £700,000 from Smith's company Goldchip Ltd have not yet been substantiated with records as requested by Rooney's management company Proactive.

They have asked Smith to provide them with detailed accounts of what events Rooney bet on and which odds he was offered. Despite having requested the accounts in February, Smith's company have so far refused to provide anything that shows clearly what Rooney bet on and how he allowed his losses to spiral so far out of control.

While Rooney has not fallen out with Owen over the involvement of Smith, who was introduced to the England players by the Newcastle forward and became their unofficial bookmaker, he has decided to stop gambling on all but the smallest scale ever again.

The question of payments will now depend on what the two sides can agree upon at a meeting set up this month to examine through what is owed by Rooney.

Most of Rooney's bets were made by telephone or by text message and he never met the man he knew as Michael who handled his account.

He bet on horseracing, greyhounds and football - although no matches in which he was involved - and finally told his agent Paul Streford that he was concerned about the size of his debts in February. The account with Goldchip was immediately closed down.

Rooney has indicated that he wants to make some form of settlement with Goldchip although much will rely on whether the company was legally licensed to operate as a bookmaker when it began taking bets from the player.

Smith set up Goldchip after buying the dormant company Calco 102 and changing its name on 15 February according to documents in Companies House.

Smith has applied for a bookmakers' license retrospectively in Leeds and said that previous to that he was acting as an agent for a licensed bookmaker.

A spokesman for Proactive said yesterday that there was no rift between Rooney and Owen as a result of the United striker's debts and that "Wayne and Michael remain the best of pals."

There was also a warning to Rooney from Steve Claridge, the former footballer who played for as many as 18 professional and non-League clubs in his career, but is still best remembered for his frank admission to a gambling addiction in his autobiography.

"He [Rooney] has to learn his lesson," Claridge told BBC Sport. "I hope this has hurt him because if it has, then he will stop. People are saying he is an addict, but that isn't the case. To a normal man, the scale of that gambling debt is huge, but £700,000 could just be a bit of fun to Wayne Rooney.

"It is all relative and that sum is just under a third of what he earns in a year. However, I don't care who he is or what he does. In 20 years time, if he is still betting like that, he won't have a penny to his name."