'Time is right' for Rooney's imminent move

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Wayne Rooney's defection from Everton to Manchester United or Newcastle United appeared imminent last night after the 18-year-old England striker formally requested a transfer and David Moyes, the Everton manager, reluctantly accepted that his sale was inevitable.

Wayne Rooney's defection from Everton to Manchester United or Newcastle United appeared imminent last night after the 18-year-old England striker formally requested a transfer and David Moyes, the Everton manager, reluctantly accepted that his sale was inevitable.

Everton had already rejected offers of £20m from Manchester United and £23.5m from Newcastle, but Rooney's decision to seek a move looked calculated to hasten his departure from Goodison Park before the transfer window closes at midnight next Tuesday.

That prospect clearly rankled with Moyes, who had hoped that Rooney, who is recovering from a foot injury sustained during Euro 2004, would sign a new, five-year deal worth £50,000 a week. "If you have an offer on the table that is the biggest contract in the club's history and it isn't signed, then the writing is on the wall," he said.

"I'm disappointed. I hope he hasn't kicked his last ball for us and he is still an Everton player with two years on his contract. Unless we get an offer we think is sufficient, he will remain so, though having an unhappy player who doesn't want to be around makes things difficult."

The Scot, who gave Rooney his debut at 16, added: "I've always felt it was better for his future to stay. We've given him an opportunity by putting him in the team early, and I hoped he'd see it through. Look at Fernando Torres, who has stayed at Atletico Madrid to learn the ropes."

Moyes said he wanted "to build a team, not sell one", adding darkly that he would "consider things if that was ever taken away from me".

Newcastle, who are understood to have made a straight cash offer, triggered the rush for Rooney after banking more than £13m from the sale of Jonathan Woodgate to Real Madrid. They remain in firm contention for Europe's most coveted teenager despite the previous insistence of Everton insiders that his heart was set on Manchester United.

Freddy Shepherd, the Newcastle chairman, said he was convinced that the player would be in new colours by Tuesday. "I would put my house on it," he said. "And I would like to think that he will be in a black-and-white shirt."

Invoking the example of the centre-forward that Rooney idolised as a boy, Shepherd added pointedly: "Manchester United don't always get every player they want. They did not get Alan Shearer. He came to Newcastle. We must see what happens with Wayne Rooney."

From the Manchester United camp, meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson insisted "nothing's changed" and said his club's chief executive, David Gill, remained "in dialogue" with the Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright. United's reluctance to go into debt means they are thought to have offered a down-payment of £12m, with the balance to be paid in installments, an arrangement with little appeal to Everton.

However, the United manager did allow himself to envisage Rooney joining forces with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Alan Smith and Louis Saha in a potent array of attacking alternatives yesterday. "[Rooney] would give us options, strength and goals, and I don't think you should refuse that. I don't know if he wants to come here. At this moment, Everton haven't accepted any bids, so there's nothing to say. But I'd feel confident about any young player coming here. I would look forward to that."

Asked whether the addition of Rooney would give him a quartet to compare with his Treble-winning strikeforce of 1998-99 - which comprised Teddy Sheringham, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - Ferguson replied: "Absolutely. It's difficult to compare really top players but the quality would be there all right."

Earlier, Rooney explained his transfer request on Everton's website. "This has been one of the hardest decisions of my life, but I feel the time is now right for me to move forward with my career. The Euros were a fantastic experience for me. They made me realise that I could play at a higher level. To do that, I need to be with a club that is playing in Europe every year."

Rooney added: "I hope the fee Everton receive will help to take the club forward. Everton fans have always been fantastic in their support of me, and I hope some day in the future I can be welcomed back to watch the team I have supported since childhood."

If European football really is crucial to Rooney, Old Trafford would be his logical choice. Ferguson can virtually guarantee Champions' League football every season, whereas for now, Newcastle can offer only the Uefa Cup. St James' Park, moreover, is in a state of flux bordering on turmoil. Sir Bobby Robson, unwillingly, is in his final season as manager and two key players, Kieron Dyer and Craig Bellamy, have recently expressed unrest.

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