- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 26, 2004

Freddy Adu, step aside for Wayne Rooney.

D.C. United’s 15-year-old star could take a few tips from the English forward, who in the last few weeks has become a star at the European Championship in Portugal.

Although people were quick to burden Adu with the insane title of the new Pele, Rooney may be closer to the real thing.

Adu gets knocked over too much by defenders and, according to United president Kevin Payne, “doesn’t get enough respect from referees.” But Rooney is a stocky figure with good upper body strength. The 18-year-old has the speed and sheer strength to hold off defenders as he powers his way toward the goal. In England’s opening game against France, he beat off one of the best defenses in the world to win a penalty kick.

Rooney’s play even stole the limelight from David Beckham — not an easy thing to do.

The English youngster made history last year when at 17 he became the youngest player to score for England. And at Euro 2004, he became the first 18-year-old to score two goals as England beat Switzerland. Unfortunately, he broke a bone in his right foot during a quarterfinal loss to Portugal.

Rooney, who plays for Everton, is gifted with natural talent and soccer intelligence. He can leave defenders dead with his speed and finishes well. Rooney is an instinctive player with tricks that can produce goals out of nothing.

His main weakness, which seems to befall many of England’s prodigies, is his temperament. Rooney has a tendency to argue with referees, and defenders find a way to goad him into trouble, where yellow cards lie in wait. Rooney also needs to steer clear of the doughnuts and steak pies.

In 17 games for England he has scored nine goals, which is quite remarkable. He seems to be an aberration on an England team that all too often falls back after a goal and plays defensively. He sees openings and opportunities that more seasoned players miss.

Rooney is being compared to England’s previous stocky star, Paul Gascoigne, who got a tryout with D.C. United a few years back. Gascoigne stole headlines at the 1990 World Cup when he was 23 — but Rooney is five years younger.

Beckham might have the flair and looks, but Rooney is a solid all-round player who has years ahead of him to dominate the game if he can keep his head intact amid all the hype and pressure.

“People shouldn’t get carried away comparing him to other players who are or were world class,” England midfielder Steven Gerrard warns. But when an 18-year-old scores four goals in a major international event, comparisons are inevitable.

Just before Euro 2004 kicked off, German star Jurgen Klinsmann’s advice to Rooney was to go and enjoy himself.

“He should say to himself it’s great to be there, but he doesn’t have as much to prove as guys like Michael Owen, David Beckham, Luis Figo or Rui Costa,” Klinsmann said.

Freddy Adu, are you listening? Just enjoy yourself against the Dallas Burn today and spend more time in the weight room when you can.

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