SPECTACULAR winning goals against Arsenal and Leeds have provided an intriguing calling card for Everton’s 17-year-old Wayne Rooney. Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, led the chorus of praise by describing Rooney as ‘better than Michael Owen at the same age. Rooney is the best young talent I have seen since I came to England in 1996.’

Whether he will fulfil that potential is another matter. England still awaits the fulfilment of similar prophecies for West Ham’s Joe Cole, so Everton manager David Moyes has been right to try to dampen the inevitable ‘wonderboy’ hyperbole.

He already has records to his name – two goals in the Worthington Cup at Wrexham ensuring he eclipsed the legendary Tommy Lawton as Everton’s youngest scorer, while the goal against Arsenal took away the Premiership’s youngest scorer title held by Owen.

Rooney, the son of a working-class family from the Liverpool suburb of Croxteth, is still, officially, an ‘apprentice’ at Everton. This means he is paid just œ120 a week. That will rise to a basic œ1,000 when he signs his first professional contract but œ8,000 every time he plays for the first team – which will be most weeks, either as substitute or starter, fitness permitting.

Rooney was expected to sign his first formal professional contract on his 17th birthday on October 24. However, it was delayed until December because the youngster is changing his agent. He is expected to join the Proactive agency run by Paul Stretford, which also handles Blackburn’s Andrew Cole and Newcastle’s Jermaine Jenas and Hugo Viana, when his contract with local agent Peter MacIntosh expires. He is not expected, however, to lose touch with his roots or to become ‘big-headed’, despite his new nickname – ‘Roonaldo’.

The difference between Rooney’s new ‘superkid’ status and his roots, three miles from Goodison Park, is immense. He still lives in a three-bedroom council house with his parents, Jeanette and Wayne, and his younger brothers, Graham and John. Jeanette is a dinner lady at a local school.

Graham, 14, has chosen to continue with the boxing career that Wayne junior gave up to pursue his football dream. John, 11, is also on the junior books at Everton. The family are all Everton-mad. An uncle played semi-professional football for England, and young Rooney’s bedroom window, visible from the street, is filled with Everton pennants.

Around Liverpool, his name has been well known for a long time. He was only nine when he was spotted by Everton scout Bob Pendleton playing for boys’ club Copplehouse in the local Walton and Kirkdale Junior League. In his last season with them he scored 99 goals before joining the Everton academy. His progress was so swift that he was playing for the Under-19s side when still only 15.

Everton fans have a long tradition of idolising centre-forwards, from Dixie Dean to Lawton, Alex Young, Joe Royle and present club captain Duncan Ferguson. It is natural they should besimilarly enthusiastic about Rooney. He possesses power, confidence and determination beyond his years.

Moyes and club owner Bill Kenwright have promised that, despite reported interest from some of the biggest clubs in the world, Rooney will be staying at Goodison Park. For how long depends on how well andhow fast he progresses.

Club Everton
Country England
Born October 24, 1985, in Liverpool