Friday, March 24, 2006

Rooney in touching distance of glory

Wayne Rooney was a picture of restraint. There, just inches away, was the World Cup - the real one, not a fake, and the man who would be king of England resisted the temptation to lift it aloft in preparation for July 9.

The famous trophy arrived from Paris on Tuesday and left London last night for Zurich. The two-day stop in London - the first time this World Cup has been in this country - was part of Fifa's tour of 31 cities in 29 countries and Rooney was paraded alongside it.

But Rooney barely gave it a glance - not a touch, a pat or a promise to see it again in four months' time. "It's bigger than I thought it was," he said of the 14½ inch, 13.61lb 18-carat trophy. "It's the biggest tournament in the world and hopefully I'll pick it up then. Then is the time to pick it up. Only the winners should touch it, everybody else should just leave it alone."

Whether it was plain old superstition or the fact that a dozen security staff were watching the trophy's every move that Rooney kept his hands in his pocket was unsure.

Emmanuel Maradas, the man appointed to accompany the trophy on the tour, admitted: "The trophy is very carefully looked after and gets its own seat on the plane - in business class."

While Maradas watched the proceedings carefully, Rooney was in humorous form on the banks of the Thames yesterday. Interviewed by the BBC, Rooney said: "I'm getting excited with the build-up and I think we have a good enough squad and to be honest we'll be disappointed if we don't bring it back."

Rooney recalled that his first memory of the World Cup was as recent as 1998. The 20-year-old said: "I was 12 and watching the England-Argentina game at my nan's. It was disappointing that we went out on penalties but after the game I went out into the street and pretended to be Michael Owen."

Now Rooney will line up alongside Owen and he added: "At the age of 12 I was just a young lad but I wanted to become a professional football but I didn't think it would come too soon."

Rooney then spoke about his private life and admitted he had 'done a Gazza' recently and cried. Not at a game, but with his girlfriend Colleen McLoughlin while watching the film Cinderella Man.

The Russell Crowe movie tells the story of James Braddock, a supposedly washed-up boxer who came back to become a champion and an inspiration in the 1930s, and Rooney admitted he cried his eyes out.

"I watched Cinderella Man with my girlfriend and there were a few tissues coming out at the end," he said. "I'm the same as everyone else."

Then he talked about his musical tastes - the Stereophonics are his favourites, followed closely by Oasis and U2 - and disclosed that, on long, lonely trips away with England he has become the king of the pool table.

The event was organised by Coca-Cola and the audience was made up of competition winners, all of whom were allowed to have their picture taken alongside Rooney and the World Cup trophy.

Rooney delighted the 500-strong gathering when he added: "I want to go out, try to express myself and do well for the country."

And then, that solid 18-carat gold trophy may see some more tears from Rooney.


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