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Rooney no Gazza in age of ceaseless media gaze

On breaking into Everton's first team in 2002, Wayne Rooney was handed Paul Gascoigne's old No 18 shirt.

Ever since, people have tried to cloak Rooney in similar Gascoigne garb, comparing the pair when many contrasts exist. They travel different paths, Rooney always more in control of his destiny and his few demons.

On first pulling on the England shirt (a red No 23) against Australia in 2003, Rooney was labelled the latest lion-heart to end England's mounting years of hurt, joining a long line of failed messiahs which also included Gascoigne.

Even his team-mates played up to this pipe-dream by calling him 'Wazza' in homage to 'Gazza'.

Further association now arrives from Alex Ferguson, following a bout of intense interest in Rooney after the Manchester United manager dropped his striker after a night out.

"Wayne Rooney is a headline-maker," pronounced Ferguson after defeating City on Sunday.

"He has to realise the press have another Gascoigne. Good or bad, the press don't mind. He will have to suffer it. Any flaws will be absolutely annihilated.''

Look closely. Rooney doesn't seem to be suffering. He appears in a position of perpetual strength, his vital importance to Ferguson's side constantly stressed. He even dictated his financial terms at Old Trafford last season.

Rooney shapes debate about himself via Twitter, rebutting stories and even revealing his hair-transplant.

Gascoigne never enjoyed this sort of control over life, career or image. One of the many talking points spicing the pages of history revolves around how Gascoigne would have fared if he had come under Ferguson's authoritarian sway.

Some observers believe Ferguson could have kept Gascoigne on the straight and narrow, out of the pub and in the medal hunt.

In 1999, Ferguson reflected of Gascoigne that he "knew managing him would be no joy-ride but the hazards that went with the talent would never put me off".

And this is where attempts to link Rooney and Gascoigne, stirring in media fascination with famous people's foibles, slow up. When it comes to "hazards'', the far more complicated Gascoigne has gone through the card.

He has suffered from alcoholism, gambling addiction, cocaine abuse and depression.

He has been sectioned and attended clinics from London to Arizona. He has had his stomach pumped, tried to find work everywhere from Kettering to China and turned up with a fishing rod during the fateful Raoul Moat stand-off with police.

Gascoigne's problems have been many, apparently stretching back to a feeling of remorse when a younger boy in his care ran out in front of a car and was killed.

Aged 10, Gascoigne was a reluctant visitor to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Gateshead, being checked over by a psychiatrist for twitches.

At the same age, Rooney's school reports were all along the lines of "nice lad, no trouble, doesn't always concentrate, mad about football but a popular member of the class".

Rooney's occasional evening out, past domestic issues, and propensity for the odd cigarette seems a scene from 'The Sound Of Music' in comparison to the 'Straw Dogs' of Gascoigne's chaotic life.

For all the media interest, Rooney has actually remained remarkably sane. His night out was spent with his wife, two team-mates and their partners. Hardly the Rat Pack.

Even efforts to compare the pair's quirks runs to Rooney admitting that he has left on the vacuum-cleaner, TV or hairdryer to soothe him to sleep. Hardly Gazza's 15 Red Bulls a day.

As a kid, Rooney's chief superstition involved closing doors when sitting in the front room or jumping on a wall if a bus went past to avoid bad luck.

Rooney gets bored between games, as seen during tournaments, but not like Gascoigne wandering hotel corridors during Italia 90, searching for another insomniac or passing waiter to play squash with.

Gascoigne, all warm heart and personality flaws, has always exuded this insecurity, this desire to be loved. Rooney never gives the impression of somebody craving adoration to fill some character defect.

Gascoigne reveals far more emotional hinterland than Rooney, including some very dark places while other parts of his personal landscape disclose an unexpected thoughtful side. He's not always daft as a brush.

One of the most enlightening interviews given by a player on England duty over the past 20 years actually came from Gascoigne, talking at Bisham Abbey before Euro 96 and examining what was wrong with football.

He spoke so intelligently, passionately and eloquently about the shortcomings in schoolboy football, in the obsession with the physical over the technical, that somebody enquired, only half in jest, whether he fancied applying for the vacant FA technical director's job.

Rooney has rarely offered many opinions that hint at future employment restructuring the game.

Contrasts persist on the pitch, where Rooney eclipses Gascoigne, certainly at club level.

In any contest of 'medals on the table', Rooney comfortably wins with his one Champions League, four Premier League titles and two League Cups to Gascoigne's one FA Cup (where he ended up in hospital), two Scottish titles, one Scottish Cup and one Scottish League Cup.

Yet even with a respectful nod to his displays at Euro 2004, Rooney has never lit up a tournament as Gascoigne did at Italia 90 where he was memorably described as "a Dog of War with the Face of a Child" by the Juventus president Gianni Agnelli.

Throw in the Feet of a Deity and the Tears of a Clown and that was Gascoigne's World Cup.

Memories of Gascoigne's goal against Scotland at Euro 96 still remain.

Rooney needs those iconic international moments. It reflects his stop-start, on-off impact on tournaments that he starts Euro 2012 two games late for disciplinary reasons.

Rooney talks of his maturing, particularly now that fatherhood occupies him, and at 26 he is coming into his prime, the athleticism of youth mixing with the experience of a decade in the game.

Some incidents still let him down. It was hard to recall Gascoigne attempting to get an opponent sent off as Rooney did with City's Vincent Kompany.

For all the contrasts, a unifying footballing ethos should be cherished. David Moyes described the teenaged Rooney as "one of the last street footballers, part of a dying breed".

Gascoigne was the same, a technical talent with limitless imagination.

England need to produce more gems like Gascoigne and Rooney. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent