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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 June, 2004, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Rooney gets Pele backing
By John May

Pele had won a World Cup winner's medal by time he was 18
Wayne Rooney has won the endorsement of Pele, the player with whom his impact at Euro 2004 has earned comparisons.

Pele, widely regarded as the best player in the sport's history, was full of praise for England's 18-year-old.

"Wayne's emerged as one of Euro 2004's best players," he told The Sun after Sven-Goran Eriksson's claim that Rooney is the best teenager since Pele.

"With his tremendous ability both on and off the ball, I am sure England can go on to do extremely well."

Pele, who won the World Cup three times with Brazil, added: "He's a very exciting talent who shows maturity and composure beyond his young years."

"I just hope that Rooney is allowed to remain focussed on his performance and that the only pressure he has to carry is that which he puts upon himself.

"There is certainly a lot more pressure on a young player like Rooney than there was when I first played for Brazil.

"It is something Wayne will have to learn to cope with."

But England's World Cup winner Alan Ball, who faced Pele at his peak in 1970, says Wayne Rooney still has some way to go to emulate the Brazil legend's achievements.

"I think it's a bit early to make that comparison," Ball told BBC Sport.

He's every chance of being a top-class player - but don't get overboard
World Cup winner Alan Ball
"Pele did it on the world stage, Wayne's had a couple of games on the European scene and I wouldn't go overboard that much.

Ball maintains Rooney is still very much a work-in-progress.

"Pele had everything in his make-up," says Ball. "This kid Rooney is showing us that he could have that, but it's got to be polished.

"This lad has done terrifically well and he's got an incredible future ahead of him."

Ball did not need to add the rider that by time he was Rooney's age, Pele already had a World Cup winner's medal.

"This tournament will bring him on again and when we've qualified for the World Cup in 2006 then you can really make the comparison.

Alan Ball faced Pele in his prime
Ball faced Pele in his prime in the 1970 World Cup

"But it's too early to talk of him being up there with Pele, just in terms of experience and strength, although he has the strength."

In the same way that Pele had the world staring open-mouthed when he burst on the scene in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, Ball believes Rooney has a similar natural talent.

"The thing that impresses me about Rooney is that he does things you can't coach," he said.

"He drifts into positions that only the top players know about and he plays football standing still sometimes, which is a very clever thing to do.

"He receives the ball away from defenders and he's every chance of being a top-class player - but don't get overboard.

"I think along with Johan Cruyff, Pele is the best player I have ever played against, and with Diego Maradona, the best players I have ever seen.

"Let's hope the next step is the world stage for this lad then you can make statements like Sven did."





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