LISBON: The most talked-about player at Euro 2004 ended his tournament by hobbling to the sidelines and out of the media glare he has been basking in for two weeks.
Wayne Rooney came to Portugal as a precocious 18-year-old with a reputation for a nasty temper and a liking for lollipops. He left as arguably the brightest talent in world football.
Perhaps it was fate that having scored four times in three matches in his joyous, fearless style, he should break a bone in his foot after an innocuous-looking challenge in the 27th minute of England's quarter-final defeat to Portugal on Thursday.
Without him, England seemed to lack the attacking spark they needed to beat the host nation.
The million-dollar question now is whether 'The Kid' can avoid the fate of so many shining young talents before him.
Rooney will return to his native Liverpool a national hero and super-rich Premiership club Chelsea are believed to be preparing a bid of anything from £30 to £50mil (US$55mil to US$90mil) for the player who has spent his entire short career at Everton.
“You know, I've been at Everton since I was nine,” he once told a journalist who was wondering how he was handling his introduction to the first team at Goodison Park.
England captain David Beckham, who is well-qualified to give Rooney advice on the pressures of fame, said he hoped the teenager would stay at his childhood club for now, close to his family and friends.
“I think it's sensible for him to stay where he's happy,” Beckham said last week.
“If that's at Everton, then so be it. If it's at other clubs, then I'm sure he will decide what happens to him. He's only 18 and as long as he's at a club that will look after him and what is most important for him, that's what he should do.”
A move to Chelsea means the bright lights of London would shine bright for the young man.
Can he avoid the pitfalls of fame which have snared so many young footballing talents before him.
Paul Gascoigne, like Rooney a boy from a working-class background who burst on to the international scene at a major tournament, fell a mile from his pedestal due to a combination of injuries and off-field problems.
'Gazza' is currently promoting his autobiography which contains as many pages about his drugs and drink problems as his footballing achievements, but at least he made it to the 1990 World Cup. Many other starlets did not get that far.
Lee Sharpe was splashed all over the newspapers when he made his debut for England aged 19 in 1991.
But Sharpe won only eight caps and within a few years he had traded Manchester United for Bradford.
And Liverpool defender Rob Jones looked the future of England's defence when he burst on to the international scene at the age of 20. But injury brutally cut short his career.
Former England great Gary Lineker said there should be no problem so long as he stayed away from the off pitch attractions.
“Of course, there are a lot of pitfalls and players don't always develop as you think they will,” he said.
“But if he looks after himself who knows what he will become. If we are talking about pure football ability there is no problem.”
All England will be crossing their fingers that Rooney stays away from the temptations caused by millions of pounds, the adoration of a nation, and the crushing weight of expectation.
But that will not stop people buying the tabloid newspapers which will inevitably follow his every step the minute he steps back on to English soil. – AFP