Sun, Jun 20, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Wayne Rooney proves his worth with scoring spree

AP , LISBON, PORTUGAL

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson wouldn't be surprised if teenage striker Wayne Rooney leaves his boyhood team Everton for greener pastures.

Rooney became the youngest ever scorer in the European Championship on Thursday, netting twice in a 3-0 win over Switzerland. At 18 years and 237 days, Rooney was almost a year younger than the previous record-holder, Dragan Stojkovic of Yugoslavia in the '84 tournament.

Rooney made his name at Everton, the club he's supported since childhood, with a standout first season of Premier League soccer in 2002-2003. He came to prominence when, as only a 16-year-old, he curled in a last-minute shot from 25m to beat Arsenal 2-1, ending the Gunners' 30-game unbeaten record.

His appearances have been carefully monitored since, but Eriksson believes the list of clubs would be "very long'" to land the signature of Rooney should he become available.

"Would any other clubs or countries want Wayne Rooney?" Eriksson said. "I'm quite sure if you are thinking about clubs then the queue is very long.

"I don't know if that is the case. But, if I were a club manager, I should take my phone -- and phone his agent. He is one of the biggest talents out there.

"He is fantastic as he is but I think he will get even better in the future. He shouldn't be 100 percent the finished article at 18 and he can improve."

On Feb. 12, 2003, Rooney became England's youngest international player in 124 years when he came on as a second half substitute in a friendly against Australia in London. Two months later, he made his first international start in the 2-0 win over Turkey in Sunderland.

With his profile at an all-time high, Everton wants Rooney to sign a new deal and is prepared to double his current ?13,000 a week salary. Rooney scored nine goals in 34 appearances at Everton last season, but the club narrowly avoided relegation, finishing in 17th place in the Premier League.

Regardless of where Rooney plays, Eriksson is grateful the teenager is playing for him.

"I had [Roberto] Baggio and Rui Costa at 18, people like that, but Wayne is one of the best 18-year-olds I've ever had to work with because he is ready," Eriksson said.

"As a manager, when you put in a young player like that, you normally talk to them and you have to protect them.

"You know they will make mistakes and you are afraid that the media is too much for them," the Swede said. "You are afraid that they are going to have a bad game and the press is going to be onto them.

"In the case of Rooney, I don't know what to say to him. He doesn't seem to need any protection. He is not nervous."

Rooney's fiery temperament is the big question mark. He'll miss England's potential quarterfinal if he gets another booking against Croatia on Monday after he was shown a yellow against Switzerland. Eriksson said he wouldn't consider leaving Rooney out.

"It is a concern but you can't worry about that because we have to beat Croatia or draw with them to go through," Eriksson said. "As a manager I can't think about leaving Rooney out and hope we win the game. He has to play and hopefully he will be clever enough not to get a yellow card.''

England only needs a draw against Croatia in Lisbon to advance to the quarters and Eriksson admitted he was surprised the Croats drew 2-2 with the French on Tuesday in Leiria.

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