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Since 1st March, 1999
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Pele maybe, Beckham not quite
- Rooney earns highest praise, highest earning is something else

Lisbon, June 22: What the Beatles did to Elvis, Wayne Rooney, also a Liverpudlian, could perhaps do to Pele, or at least the English believe so.

The 18-year-old may have the talent to give the world’s greatest-ever footballer a run for his money, but Rooney cannot possibly hope to upstage David Beckham when it comes to money.

England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and captain Beckham spoke of Rooney in the same breath as Pele after his outstanding displays at Euro 2004. The striker scored two goals and made another as England beat Croatia 4-2 yesterday.

Football excites the passions because so many people have so many opinions about players, games and goals, but there are certain things about which there can be no doubt.

The first and irrefutable law of football is that Pele was the greatest player ever.

Diego Maradona, George Best, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane are guaranteed their place at football’s top table, but Pele is at its head.

Now Rooney is being considered for membership of the All Time Greats Club.

The English, however, looking desperately to repeat their 1966 glory when they won the World Cup for close to 40 years, have been prone to stick the label of a “phenomenon” on whoever is the latest lad on the block. And that holds good not for football alone — cricket, tennis, you name it.

Eriksson is a Swede and unlikely to suffer from the English disease, though he has now spent some years in the country as the national team manager.

Choosing his words carefully, he said after the Croatia match he could not remember a young player making such an impact in a tournament since the 17-year-old Pele declared his genius to the world at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

The “new Pele” burden is one Rooney might have to carry for the rest of his career. And he might just be good enough to handle it.

Like Pele, Rooney was born in humble surroundings, in the working class district of Croxteth in Liverpool. Like Pele he made his professional debut for his club side in his mid-teens.

Rooney was just 16 when he first played in Everton’s first team and has since become England’s youngest ever player and youngest scorer.

While the historical references are intriguingly similar, there is also a resonance of Pele in Rooney’s performances.

Pele was not a tall player but he was muscular, tough, pacy and intelligent.

Pele did not just score goals either — he made them and he could tackle too.

Again there are similarities with Rooney, who has a tremendous burst of speed and is also immensely powerful for such a young player. He has a temper, “it helps my game” he says, and goes into every tackle “110 per cent”.

His first goal against Croatia was a bullet. His second, after a long solo run, showed a cool head and the killer instinct all natural scorers have.

Also impressive was the way Rooney set up Paul Scholes for his goal with an excellent header, working out instantly how to make the best of the situation in a crowded penalty area.

Pele’s speed of thought was electrifying.

As stunning is Rooney’s captain Beckham’s marketing potential. Can Rooney match that'

Rooney’s agent is reported to have taken 123 calls from potential sponsors on the day after he scored in England’s 3-0 victory over Switzerland last week.

He already has sponsorship deals with Coca-Cola, Nike, Procter & Gamble and Ford, among others.

“He’s already overtaken (Liverpool and England star) Michael Owen in the pecking order, but he’s still some way behind Beckham,” said Nigel Currie, director of British sports marketing specialists GEM group.

While Beckham’s endorsements, including Pepsi, Adidas and Gillette, bring him an estimated £15 million a year on top of his 6.4 million euro salary from Real Madrid, Rooney is already heading for double-digit sponsorship earnings, Currie said.

“He has the potential to reach £10 to 12 million in the next 12 months,” Currie said.

Alas, Rooney does not have all of the assets that made Beckham a global sports marketing megastar. Beckham unquestionably has the edge in looks, leading to his lucrative endorsement of haircare products, sunglasses and clothing. By contrast, Rooney’s appearance has been compared with that of a baby elephant.

It isn’t known if the youngster, given a choice, will settle for Beckham’s bucks or Pele’s performance.

Surely, he would like to have both. And why not. The last time Liverpool gave the world a phenomenon, they mopped up a lot of money, apart from mopping off some of the Elvis dazzle.

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