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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 August, 2004, 19:58 GMT 20:58 UK
Rooney worth the fight
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

England dangerman Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney was at the centre of a 27m transfer battle between two of football's elder statesmen - at the tender age of 18 and with his football career in its infancy.

Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson and his fellow knight and one-time Newcastle counterpart Sir Bobby Robson have seen everything in long and distinguished careers.

But they have rarely witnessed a talent like Everton's 18-year-old genius Rooney, who confirmed his wish to depart Goodison Park by handing in a written transfer request on Friday.

And that is why they were willing to put all footballing and financial logic to one side and make Rooney the most expensive teenager in British football history.

So what is it that makes Rooney so special, and worth the very public multi-million pound scramble?

We are not dealing with any normal 18-year-old
BBC Sport's Alan Hansen

And why was Ferguson so determined to win the battle?

Rooney's talent was whispered about in almost hushed tones when he emerged barely out of his teens at Everton.

He was quickly labelled as the finest youngster Everton had ever produced, and occasionally visiting reporters would be beckoned into the club's Bellefield training headquarters to watch a video of the prodigy's latest feat.

Even veteran former Everton manager and youth team coach Colin Harvey, never a man to deliver undeserved praise, could not contain his enthusiasm.

Rooney signed his first contract on the pitch at Goodison Park before he was even near a first team place - the club was that sure they had a budding genius on their hands.

Sir Alex Ferguson
Ferguson had to wait for the nod from Everton

He almost single-handedly guided Everton to the 2002 FA Youth Cup final, scoring and unveiling the "Once A Blue Always A Blue" t-shirt that has returned to haunt him.

The attributes have always been in place, and flourished under the guidance of Everton manager David Moyes.

A freakishly powerful frame for one so young, a nerveless and fearless outlook, a fierce shot and a maverick streak that gave him a flair for the outrageous and unexpected.

Rooney made his debut as a 16-year-old on the opening day of the 2002/03 against Spurs - but burst on to the national consciousness on 19 October 2002.

He scored a now famous 25-yard winner in the last minute as Everton ended Arsenal's 30-match unbeaten run with a 2-1 victory.

Rooney then became England's youngest player and goalscorer, although his form was mixed last season in a struggling Everton side.

Indeed he went into Euro 2004 with question marks surrounding his weight and fitness - questions he answered so spectacularly that it effectively set the ground for the current bidding war.

The highest stage in European football held no terrors as he roughed up France hard man Lilian Thuram, then scored twice in wins against Switzerland and Croatia.

England was in the grip of "Roomania" - while Everton feared his feats were forcing him further away from the club he supported as a boy.

Rooney's Euro 2004 ended prematurely with a broken foot against Portugal, but by then he had erased any doubts about his world-class quality.

Moyes had looked after Rooney

Lurid allegations about his private life have tarnished Rooney's image, but his football pedigree outweighs that in the mind of Ferguson.

Manchester United felt they could wait until next summer before signing Rooney at a relatively knockdown price, but Newcastle's dramatic intervention forced their hand.

Ferguson simply felt he could not allow Rooney to move elsewhere, a testimony to his importance in the future Old Trafford strategy.

Now Sir Alex has got his man in a transfer valued at an initial 20m. Only time will tell whether Rooney will prove his worth.

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