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Stop the Madness

29 June, 2004

For God's sake. I can't take it anymore.

Wayne Rooney... future Goodison legend or heartbreak waiting to happen?

The endless crap in the newspapers, the daily quotes from know-all football-related "celebrities," the sudden obsession with everything Rooney. George Best, Peter Schmeichel, Walter Smith, Andy Gray... the list of loudmouths urging Wayne to turn his back on his boyhood Blues, follow the pound signs and give the non-Evertonian populous what it wants — the big story of the summer — goes on.

I hated watching Euro 2004 with burgeoning pride at the all-conquering exploits of "our kid" tempered by the gut-wrenching fear that we'd never see him again in an Everton jersey. It pained me to see the fickle national press and equally two-faced "Ingerlund" fans bathing themselves in "Roo-mania" (if I hear that word again, I think I'll break something) because you just know that the former, having built him up on the back of countless column inches, is just waiting for him to fail so they can tear him down, while the latter, come August when Portugal will be a distant memory, will be baying "you fat bastard" at him.

The worst part of all of this? If it weren't for all the hype, the frenzy, the malicious "advice" from his agent, his uncle and Sven Goran Eriksson, I'm convinced that Wayne would sign the new deal on the table and get back to playing for Everton, the club he loves.

Of course the lad is ambitious, of course he wants to win trophies — no doubt he'd love to do that with Everton but I'm realistic enough to admit, with all due respect to David Moyes, that remains a distant prospect — but for heaven's sake, he's only 18! If he signs a five-year contract with Everton now, he'll still only be 23 at the end of it. Many players are just beginning to establish themselves at that age — Rooney, like Michael Owen, would be a veteran — and attacking players don't reach their peak until they're 28. The boy has aeons of time ahead of him. Why the rush to fast-track him into a title-contending team just so the "meejah" can have a field day?

Those pressing for him to make a big-money move to Chelsea or, now that he's apparently signalled his desire to stay in Liverpool, Manchester United say that he has to move to a big club in order to develop his game and be the best he can be for the England national team.

What they conveniently forget is that he's been doing just fine playing for "sorry old Everton." The star of Euro 2004, the energy that fuelled an ordinary England to the Quarter Final stage, became the talent that he is at Everton, a product of our youth academy and David Moyes's protective leadership. Not Manchester United. Not Liverpool, Arsenal or frigging Johnny-come-lately Chelsea. Everton FC.

It's all the result of some highly malignant forces in the modern game that put the interests of the clubs at the bottom of the pile and those of the supporters buried several feet below that. Wayne Rooney has become a commodity for the media to revel in and for ProActive Sports, the company that... ahem... "represents" him, to swell their coffers from.

The money will be great for Everton, people cry. Would it? Perhaps if someone was foolish enough to pay £50m for one player. More on that later, but only Chelsea have that kind of money and, if you believe the press, they don't seem interested in paying more than £30m while Wayne — quite rightly — isn't ready to leave his Merseyside roots.

In that sense, he not your normal transfer story waiting to happen. He is not the battle-hardened, media-savvy, late-twenty-something Alan Shearer moving to Newcastle United for £15m to see out a glittering career. He isn't a composed Michael Owen or David Beckham with the boy-band looks parading as the ambassador for the English national side. He is a shy 18 year-old kid with the boxer's physique from an under-privileged area beset by all the economic challenges that that implies who, until recently, was still living in Croxteth knocking a ball about in the streets with his mates on matchdays after playing in the Premiership for Everton.

His awkward on-camera persona, littered with footballing cliches and well-worn answers, is a step forward from the raw, gum-chewing, loose-tied adolescent who appeared at the BBC Sport Personality of the Year awards last year, but remains clearly indicative that Wayne simply isn't ready for the intense scrutiny that has resulted from his performances for England and will only get worse should he sign for someone like Manchester United.

The media is full of journos, sports columnists and social commentators who, on the one hand, are warning that all this sudden fame and fortune is making him a prime candidate to follow the likes of George Best and Paul Gascoigne into self-destruction while, on the other, they continue to probe and pick at him trying to find the signs of weakness that will propel him down that path with the help of their constant spotlight.

With the dearth of superstars on the England team, the press are clamouring around Rooney like a swarm of locusts — all the while tearing their former darling, Owen, to shreds because he wasn't scoring — as the next big story and the result of that is an obsession for the club he plays for, the potential transfer fee he might command and the column inches he can fill turning out for a media-favourite club like Manchester United.

Who knows what The Boy himself makes of all of it. As Evertonians, we would wish to think that he is sitting back and laughing at the media frenzy and ignoring the no doubt daily coercion from Paul Stretford to think about all the cash and trophies that are waiting for him at Old Trafford.

"Live today as if there is no tomorrow," he'll be saying. "The contract United can offer you will set you up for life. What happens if you get injured next season and never recover?" he'll be goading. Well, how much does a young man need? The deal that Everton will put in front of him may not be the £85,000 a week that has been bandied about by the hacks as the probable wage packet he'll pick up at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, but it will probably be worth around £2m a year, far less than his enorsement deals, I would imagine.Again, how much does one lad need?

Forgetting about money for the moment, perhaps the greatest motivator for Rooney might be his career and his potential to win the highest domestic honours. Again, as things stand, he is unlikely to win much of anything at Everton but, as already stated, he has all the time in the world for that, a career-ending injury notwithstanding. Everton Football Club needs him more than he needs to rush off to Manchester United in search of medals before he has fully developed as a player. Make no mistake: Wayne Rooney is far from the finished article but it's a fallacy to suggest that the only way he will be able to progress is by playing with — rather than against — the country's best players.

So, ultimately it all comes down to Everton. How badly they want to keep him and how much Wayne's love for the club will affect his decisions this summer. If he feels that by allowing the club to cash in on his current value he will be providing it a life-saving financial shot in the arm, he is probably mistaken. If, as contemporary wisdom now suggests, Manchester United are the only club with a realistic chance of buying him, Everton are unlikely to see more than £20m in cash, a fraction of that up front, some of it tied up in appearance-related clauses and the rest made up of ageing part-exchange players on fat wages that will cancel out much of the benefit of having sold him in the first place.

Any attempt to ease the debt that has been secured against future season ticket sales by paying some of it off early will probably be hit by penalty fees and let's not even contemplate the predicted drop in season ticket sales if the club's best player is sold off. It could well be that by selling off the family silver, Everton trigger a crippling shortfall in the ticket revenue on which their debt payments rely. Add to that the rumours that the delayed sponsorship agreement with Chang Beers is dependent on Rooney staying at Goodison Park and it appears, on the face of it, that keeping him would be a sounder investment than selling him.

Once a Blue... disposable cliche or life's motto?

That leaves one question: how much does Wayne want to continue playing for Everton (and for how long)? There is a possible scenario that seems almost unthinkable in the modern game — in fact, you'd get laughed at for suggesting it — whereby Rooney plays if not his entire career at Goodison then the vast majority of it. The river of money, the trophies, the adulation from the prawn-sandwich brigade in Manchester or West London... none of it interests the lad in the least.

He plays for the club he has always loved, the team whose crest adorned his bedroom wall in Croxteth and for whom he used to support from the terraces of Goodison Park until a couple of years ago. He goes down in Everton folklore and legend alongside — if not above — the likes of William Dean, Tommy Lawton and Alex Young. Who knows, maybe he forms the foundation of an Everton revival that sees them return to the glory days and re-establish themselves among the big five a few years down the line.

Basically, he lives the dream we all wish we could playing in the Royal Blue jersey, one where money and fame come a distant second to Everton Football Club (something the likes of Paul Stretford could never understand) and where the mantra we as fans have adopted is writ true in the most poetic way possible: "Evertonians are born, not manufactured... Those who understand need no explanation. Those who don't understand don't matter"

Yes, it's a utopian notion but if you don't hold out some hope that being an Evertonian is somehow different to supporting any other club, that what we as a community have suffered over the past decade and a half as our club's fortunes have crumbled before our eyes, that those of us who have kept attendance figures in the high 30,000s in recent years despite the fare that was on offer confirms that we are a different breed then what's the point?

We may not be able to categorically say that the prospect of Premiership titles and Champions League football at somewhere like United wouldn't tempt us if we were in The Kid's position but what I do know is that on May 10th, 1998, just like me, Wayne Rooney was a desperate Evertonian at Goodison Park dancing in the rain as we escaped from relegation on the final day of the season.

That, we must all hope, counts for something.

Lyndon Lloyd

©2004 ToffeeWeb


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