WAYNE ROONEY could have played in the Premier League aged FIFTEEN – but was denied by FA red tape.
The Everton striker showed superb promise in the Goodison Park junior ranks that Toffees chiefs tried to accelerate his first-team involvement.
However, an application to play him as a minor in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons were rejected by the English Schools’ Football Association (ESFA).
Roo had to wait until he was 16 before making his Everton bow in August 2002 – and a few months later he scored that famous winning goal against England and Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman.
The revelation is made in a new book, The School of Hard Knox, which chronicles the life and times of ex-Scotland, Man Utd, Rangers and Everton assistant manager Archie Knox.
Knox, 70, said: “I’ve only seen two players in my entire life that at 14 years of age you would put money on to be top players – Rooney and Giggs.
“All the rest, even Scholes, Butt, Beckham, the Nevilles – and Phil captained England’s Under-16 schoolboys when he was 14 – you wouldn’t have known 100% for sure.
“We tried to get permission from the FA to play Rooney in Everton’s first-team when he was 15. He was that good.
“We would never have played him week in, week out at such a young age.
“But he could easily have coped in the Premier League at that age. We didn’t get the permission and, of course, we had left Everton by the time he got his debut under Davie Moyes at 16.”
Matthew Briggs is the Premier League’s youngest player when he played in Fulham’s 3-1 defeat at Middlesbrough in May 2007 aged 16 years and 65 days.
But Knox added: “He became Manchester United and England’s greatest-ever goalscorer and fulfilled all of that potential.”
Knox became an instrumental figure in the SFA’s world-famous coaching courses at Largs.
The likes of Man Utd boss Jose Mourinho, Andre Villas Boas and Rangers supremo Pedro Caixinha came through the doors of the programme on the Ayrshire coast.
Knox even picked up a young Mourinho from the airport when he arrived in Scotland for his coaching badges and drove him to the course – only a few years before he won the Champions League with Porto.
In the book, Knox talks affectionately about England icon Paul Gascoigne, who was signed by Rangers from Lazio in 1995.
In his first season, Gazza scored 19 goals in 42 games and was named as PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year and Scottish Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year.
But it was his madcap adventures off the pitch and in the dressing room that Knox remembers the most.
He recalled: “Gazza loved going in to the Plaice Café on Paisley Road West for bacon rolls and tea after training.
“If we did a light session at Bellahouston, we’d walk down to the café so the lads could relax. Quite often, we’d walk back to Ibrox from there.
“One day we arrived at the cafe and there was a council worker outside sweeping the street.
“He had the old-fashioned brush and cart and was wearing the bright yellow council-issue jacket and a hat.
“Gazza decided it would be better if the boy joined the rest of the players for rolls and tea – and he’d do his job for half an hour.
“The next thing we knew, Gazza was wearing the full council gear and was out working on the street.
“He was sweeping up the pavements, picking up litter and putting everything into the big bin on the cart.
“People were going about their daily business on Paisley Road West and walking past him, never thinking for a moment that this street sweeper could be Paul Gascoigne.”
Knox also reveals that Gazza elected not to celebrate the 1996 Scottish Cup final victory over Hearts with the Rangers team…instead he went fishing with a bunch of OAPS!
Knox laughs: “Gazza said he’d promised them that he’d join them at the loch after the game. He still had the oversize suit and shoes on but he took some beers away and headed off to fish with the pensioners.”
But he added: “Gazza was unbelievable for the couple of years we had him at Rangers.
“Crazy at times off the pitch but he never gave us a single headache in training.
“One of the most talented players of them all.”
The School of Hard Knox by Archie Knox with Roger Hannah, published by Arena Sport, is available from all good bookshops and www.birlinn.co.uk
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