Leading article: Footballers' lives

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The Independent Online

Talented young striker, aged 20, is introduced by fellow striker to the latter's property manager. He, it then transpires, however, is the team's unofficial bookmaker, and after more than a few flutters on horses, hounds and other football matches, our feckless hero is left saddled with debts approaching £700,000.

No, it's not one of the lads from the fictional playing ground of Earls Park. It is Wayne Rooney, from the very real playing fields of Manchester United.

Rooney's managers are understandably reported to be horrified by the size of the reported debt and by the prospect of the dispute over it ripping apart the England team only a few months before the World Cup in Germany.

We suspect this tale of Wayne's progess will divide the country neatly down the middle, with the spiritual heirs of the Roundheads railing against the vast sums that footballers earn and foreseeing a terrible ruin for all involved (Rooney is on about £60,000 a week, not including his sponsorship and advertising deals), and the new Cavaliers applauding him as the reincarnation of one of those Regency gambling rakes who would throw away whole estates and fortunes for a turn at the tables.

We do not wish to judge - yet - for should England's premier striker deliver the goods on the pitch this summer in Germany, all will be forgiven. By us, one hastens to add, not by Rooney's creditors.