By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer
Wayne Rooney has become the world's most talked about young footballer in the space of three sensational performances and four goals for England at Euro 2004.
Everton's brilliant 18-year-old was compared to Pele by England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and labelled "The Phenomenon" by the Portuguese media.
He has returned from Euro 2004 as a national hero, and at the centre of widespread speculation about his future.
Rooney has been offered a new five-year contract at Goodison worth a reported £50,000-a-week, so soon the most crucial question of all will be answered....
Where will Wayne Rooney be playing his football next season?
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has long coveted Rooney, and all informed sources suggest that if he leaves Everton, Old Trafford will be his chosen destination.
But Ferguson's desire to land the youngster has been complicated by his stellar performances at Euro 2004.
Suddenly, a manageable potential £20m asking price has - certainly by Everton's reckoning - doubled and United's plc, knowing John Magnier is watching like a hawk, will ponder very carefully before sanctioning such a massive investment in an 18-year-old.
The likelihood is they would back their manager's judgement - the question is to the tune of how much?
United were stung into paying £28m for Juan Sebastian Veron and £29m for Rio
Ferdinand, so those sorts of riches will not be splashed easily again.
Ferguson hopes to land Rooney this summer
Any attempt to palm Everton off with cash plus some surplus stars is unlikely to appeal, with the Goodison board knowing such a deal would prove unacceptable to fans.
Rooney may also consider the potential unpopularity of any move down the East Lancashire Road. He will face a massive backlash after what would be seen as the next betrayal down from joining Liverpool.
United chief executive David Gill has suggested their spending is over for the summer, but take that as an opening gambit in the race for Rooney rather than a definitive statement of intent.
This is perhaps the most outrageous suggestion of all to some, particularly to those who have suddenly hitched their colours to the Rooney bandwagon.
But still very possible.
Rooney is contracted to Everton for another two years, and after offering him such a massive contract, the Goodison Park club have grabbed the high ground.
Rooney and Moyes have an uneasy relationship
Everton will either keep their prize asset, or will hold out for a massive fee. New chief executive Trevor Birch is a shrewd, hard-ball operator and is unlikely to budge easily on any fee - and why should he?
Everton became more entrenched after England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson's unforgiveable gaffe that if he was a club manager he would be ringing Rooney's agent to ask about buying him.
And Everton are also unlikely to subscribe to the theory that just because the nation has decided Rooney must move, they should meekly comply.
The next move lies with Rooney after Everton moved swiftly to publicise their new contract offer.
This is all before you get to Everton's fans, who have already started to petition the club's hierarchy against selling Rooney and are likely to revolt on a mass scale if he leaves.
The difficulty for Rooney is whether he feels he can take going from the heights of adulation at Euro 2004 to playing in a side that only narrowly avoided relegation last season.
Rooney's relationship with manager David Moyes is known to be uneasy, but that can surely be overcome if Rooney demonstrates a willingness to stay.
From Everton's point of view, they must weigh up whether it is worth more to keep Rooney and possibly struggle again with no cash for players, or sell to rebuild the team and wipe out debts at a stroke.
Everton manager David Moyes has consistently stated that only one club could afford Rooney if he was ever put up for sale - and that is Chelsea, funded by the world's biggest footballing chequebook courtesy of Roman Abramovich.
But new Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho has already insisted Rooney is not in his plans, seemingly leaving the choice between staying at Everton or awaiting a bid from Manchester United.
Suggestions still persist, however, that if Everton decided to sell, Chelsea and Abramovich would be unable to resist the temptation to get involved.
Chelsea's hopes of landing Rooney, if indeed they want him, deteriorated with the collapse of their proposed deal for Liverpool's Steven Gerrard.
Rooney is unlikely to relish a move to London, and would probably have only been tempted had his close friend Gerrard been involved.
Indeed, Gerrard's decision to pledge his future to Anfield has turned up the heat on Rooney to do the same at Goodison Park.
Arsene Wenger has already labelled the possibility of signing Rooney a "fantasy" as the price tag rose.
But he also called Rooney "the best young talent I've seen since coming to
England" after his wonder goal ended a 30-match unbeaten run in October 2002.
He has never been less than glowing in his praise for Rooney, as has Highbury striker Thierry Henry.
Arsenal have said they will not be doing this sort of business - but would Wenger just be tempted by the thought of Rooney and Henry up front?
Everton and Arsenal are very close as clubs and business can be guaranteed to be done in a civilised way.
Very long shot though.
VERDICT: Virtually no chance.
Real Madrid presidential candidate Arturo Baldasano claims he will find the money to buy the teenager if he is elected, but in reality he will not be elected and Rooney will not go abroad at this stage of his career.
VERDICT: No chance.