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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Rooney's route to the top

By Phil McNulty
Our man with England

England striker Wayne Rooney has been the focus of attention in Portugal
England's Wayne Rooney has priced himself out of everybody's market except Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's with his brilliant displays at Euro 2004.

Abramovich watched, along with new Blues coach Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon, as Rooney added yet more millions to his value with two goals in the 4-2 win against Croatia.

And as a man who likes collecting footballing gems, the odds are shortening on Abramovich making Everton's 18-year-old Britain's first 50m footballer.

Rooney took applause from David Beckham as he left the field at Lisbon's Stadium of Light, while England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson made comparisons with Pele and Steven Gerrard labelled him "on current form Europe's best player".

It is all a far cry from England's last major tournament in Japan 2002, when Rooney was unknown to almost all the media who have elevated him to superstar status in Portugal.

Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish
Rooney has attracted comparisons with the likes of Kenny Dalglish
But at Everton, the youngster was already being talked about in hushed tones as the best player the famous old club had produced.

Former manager and then youth team coach Colin Harvey, a man never given to light praise, likened him to Kenny Dalglish - only quicker!

Rooney's stock and reputation was so high even then that he signed his junior forms on the pitch during an Everton game at Goodison Park.

And it remains one of Walter Smith's great regrets that he was unable to give him his debut before he was sacked.

Sadly for Smith, Rooney was still at Croxteth's De la Salle School - where his mother Jeanette was a dinner lady - and was therefore ineligible for first-team duty.

Had that red tape not wrapped around Smith's plans, he would have been in.

Even before he made his first-team debut, the then Everton defender David Unsworth told BBC Sport: "He won't just be a legend at this club - he will be THE legend."

Rooney was always destined to sign for Everton, refusing to remove his royal blue top when attending a trial at Liverpool.

There were no such problems at Everton, with youth coach Ray Hall saying: "When you get an experienced scout sitting there with his cup of tea quivering while you talk to the lad, you know he's a special talent."

Rooney had no interest in Liverpool. The only club he wanted to join was Everton.

Wayne Rooney was the star of Everton's run to the 2002 FA Youth Cup final
Rooney's displays for Everton's youth team marked him out as a future star
Tales soon emerged of Rooney drawing applause from parents of both sides for scoring a stunning overhead kick in a junior game against Manchester United.

And of how the precocious 14-year-old would be thrown on as a substitute in games way beyond his years and turn defeats into victories with ease.

Harvey's relationship with Rooney was the closest at Everton, with the old Goodison legend driving the brilliant talent - while also proudly showing videos of goals he had scored to reporters at the club's Bellefield training ground.

Rooney received national prominence of a sort as the outstanding talent in Everton's run to the 2002 FA Youth Cup final, which he had guided them to almost single-handedly.

A 35-yard free-kick in the semi-final at Spurs, hammered home with one foot after being fluffed with another, was alleged to have rendered Glenn Hoddle almost speechless in admiration.

Rooney was handed his debut as a 16-year-old in August 2002 - but exploded on the national psyche with his famous 25-yard winner against Arsenal on 19 October.

This was the coming of age of the boy who lived on a council estate with his parents and brothers and whose windows were covered in Everton pennants.

Rooney (centre) celebrates signing his first professional contract at Everton
Everton wasted no time in signing Rooney on a professional contract
He was the quietly-spoken boy genius who went home after ending Arsenal's 30-match unbeaten run for a kick-about with his mates and a ride on his BMX.

Rooney signed his first professional contract in February 2003, moving up the wage bracket from 80-a-week to 13,000-a-week.

And he made his competitive debut for England six months after his goal against Arsenal at Sunderland's Stadium of Light - which brings us back to where we started and Benfica's famous home that was illuminated by the teenager's brilliance on Monday.

Rooney's life will never be the same again after Euro 2004, with the boy who only wanted to play for Everton likely to have his loyalty and ambition tested to the limit.

Chelsea and Manchester United are reportedly interested - but how much will they have to pay after the 11 days that have changed Wayne's world - and possibly Everton's world too?

Euro 2004 has opened up the road to superstardom for the youngster, and Rooney is ready to fulfil what Everton fans who saw him even as a teenager believed to be his destiny - namely greatness.





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