Sports marketing: Rooney caught in the crossfire of advisers

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The Independent Online

Those of us annexed in Portugal during June arrived home to discover that it was Shazza not Wazza - as the Sun would have it - who was fleetingly on everyone's lips.

Those of us annexed in Portugal during June arrived home to discover that it was Shazza not Wazza - as the Sun would have it - who was fleetingly on everyone's lips. By Monday, Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova had wisely left town for the comparative anonymity of New York, to a chorus of obligatory "marketing experts" forecasting that her victory would ultimately multiply her wealth to a potential £30m, £50m, even £100m once the sports-shoe manufacturers, credit- and debit-card distributors, fast-food chains, soft-drink conglomerates and the beauty and fashion industry had plied her with their affections, and their dollars.

A striking teenager blessed with talent. A Kournikova with real clout, and one whose ascendancy from an impoverished childhood amid the "frozen wastelands of Siberia" to this pinnacle is already one for the movie-makers. A touch of Dr Zhivago meets My Fair Lady.

It is an evocative story, by any judgement. You suspect it is only the beginning if, under the guidance and mentoring of the IMG Bollettieri Academy, her career can strike that crucial balance between the disciplined existence that is required for continued progress and the freedom that sustains a semblance of "normality". However, as Nick Bollettieri has warned in the Independent, dedication would enrich her game, while "a circle of fun and fancy and frills and parties", a lifestyle which he says was enjoyed by Mary Pierce and Iva Majoli after their first Grand Slam triumphs, could ruin her.

The Russian Revelation can prepare for her next tournament in Los Angeles while selecting her commercial suitors at leisure. Life is not quite so facile for Merseyside's own teenager, who some- how brings to mind that description once given to the American statesman Daniel Webster, of "a steam engine in trousers".

Wazza, or Roo, depending on headline space, has been revealing all in the two popular Murdoch organs, if such front pages as "Rooney: My love for Coleen" (his girlfriend) and "How I nearly quit football" (or, to be more exact, how at one stage he got a bit hacked off with all the training) can be described as such.

The Sun and News of the World series has achieved what would have appeared impossible three weeks ago, with a Rooney-inspired England having just qualified for the Euro 2004 quarter-finals: it has turned the Everton striker into an iconoclast. The Sun, it will be recalled, made a number of accusations immediately post-Hillsborough about Liverpool supporters' conduct. It was forced to retract, and even last week described the journalism as "the most terrible mistake in its history".

Hillsborough was 15 years ago, but Rooney's collaboration with the Murdoch papers, for a reported £250,000, has caused a well of indignation to overflow, albeit, according to some more cynical voices, with the encouragement of certain Liverpool newspapers owned by the Sun's principal rival, the Mirror Group.

Presumably Rooney's representative, Paul Stretford of Proactive Sports Group, was aware that his client could be perceived as stumbling on some residual Anfield sensitivities. While one would defend Rooney's right to collaborate with whomever he desires, it was probably not the wisest course of action, particularly as, simultaneously, his allegiance to Everton is under severe scrutiny. As one Goodison source told me: "I'm quite surprised that an Evertonian like Rooney doesn't immediately say, 'Yes please, snap me up for 50 grand a week [what the 18-year-old has been offered in a newly proposed five-year contract]'."

The one revelation that would be worth the Sun investment is the name of his employers come the season of 2004-05. For reasons best known to his advisers, he remains in limbo. With Chelsea's Jose Mourinho disclaiming any interest (and we will believe that when it doesn't happen), the choice appeared to be between a move to Old Trafford or remaining with old Evertonian friends, unless Real Madrid's president-elect Florentino Perez makes him an unreal offer. But now Manchester United director Sir Bobby Charlton has pronounced on the subject, declaring altruistically: "Wayne Rooney is a great player... I think he is quite happy at Everton and I don't see any reason why he shouldn't stay there."

Hmm. Perhaps. The suspicion is that neither United nor Chelsea feel it is prudent to purchase a player immediately after a tournament which has made him one of Europe's most admired assets. The Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, has already said that it would require a figure of £50m to detach Rooney from Goodison. That is optimistic thinking, but at current prices he could anticipate a figure of at least £35m. It makes sense for any potential buyers to wait until the January window, or next summer, for a more realistic valuation.

Yesterday, Kenwright, a normally ebullient Scouser, enthused about Rooney in Portugal, but preferred to retain his own counsel on the player's immediate club future, except to confirm: "There's been no direct communication to Everton from anyone. Except the fans. Their views have been coming to me thick and fast."

There are as many ways of looking at the Rooney affair as the potential millions in his contract. Everton would benefit if he remains at Goodison for the foreseeable future, not merely from his own presence but as a magnet for other players that the manager, David Moyes, would like to sign and retain. Rooney's departure would permit maybe three or four significant signings (always bearing in mind that the club are £30m in debt), and frankly, this ageing team are in need of several. And that's before we begin to address the question of a new stadium to replace Goodison.

Few doubt Rooney's own career would be enhanced by a move to United. What it does not need is another year in a struggling team, it is said. But is that true? At 18, after a disappointing Premiership season, perhaps he would be better suited to a regular place at a club where he is worshipped, from the board downwards.

Everton have made their offer, and await a response. Kenwright, a theatre impresario used to his West End stars putting pen to paper rather more expeditiously, doesn't court our sympathy for the fact that the reaction from the Rooney camp has not been instantaneous. Yet you can't help feeling that Everton, who nurtured the young man and protected him in a manner which would probably have been commended by Nick Bollettieri, deserve more than the current prevarication. The portents indicate that Rooney will ultimately commit himself to the Toffees, but may negotiate some kind of get-out clause should Europe's élite come sniffing with real intent.

In the meantime, Kenwright has to keep believing. I reminded the former Coronation Street actor how I warned him that he would regard with ambivalence the Roo-mania which would inevitably follow a triumphant championships. He denied it then. Still does. The fan in him dominates the chairman's emotions. "I've never seen anyone make such an impact, have you?" he enthuses. "I was getting emails from people I hadn't heard from in 30 or 40 years, text messages from people in showbusiness who'd never heard the word 'Everton'. There was such a feeling of pride. It was wonderful to hear Rooney-Everton everywhere."

He added: "When he went down in the penalty area in that last game [against Portugal in the quarter-final], you think, 'Oh, my God'. Jenny [Seagrove, Kenwright's partner] said to me, 'Oh, he's fine. He's got up'. And I said, 'No, no', because that boy is normally instantly back in the fray. He doesn't get injured." I interrupt: "Until that injury, he kept England going on his own?" A pause, then: "We just hope he will for Everton next season."

Those without affiliation to Manchester United and Chelsea will hope Kenwright is correct. Whether he will still be so by the time Rooney's fellow 18-year-old Maria Sharapova returns to conquer Wimbledon again next summer, well, that could be a different story.