Here's not looking at you, kid

KEITH BRADFORD -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:07 AM ET

He's got pace, power, vision and two great feet.

But there's a school of thought that says teen phenom Wayne Rooney's greatest asset may yet turn out to be the one quality he lacks - good looks.

The 18-year-old has a face that's more Shrek than Becks, as one commentator put it.

In fact, he's the kind of PR nightmare that prompted one dating agency to put out a news release headlined, "Wayne's distinctive face gives hope for round-faced rejects."

Fashion mags and cosmetics companies won't exactly be beating a path to his door.

But being battered with the ugly stick leaves him free - when not being photographed in brothels by the tabloids - to concentrate on what he does best: being the finest young soccer player of his generation.

"He's found something that he is just fantastic at," says Dr. Nick Holt, an assistant professor of sport psychology at the University of Alberta's faculty of physical recreation and education.

"Expectation comes with his ability. The question is, how well can he adapt with that other stuff? If it was just playing, I think he would be fine."

That other stuff, namely fame, fortune and the media, has brought down better men.

But the most supremely talented players - at least in soccer - always seem so much more susceptible to the fame game.

One of the greatest of them all, Argentina's Diego Maradona, has long since retired - after drugs marred a brilliant career - but he still seems to spend more time in rehab than a supermodel.

Then there's Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne and George Best, two wonderfully gifted players whose love for the game has been overshadowed by their love of booze.

David Beckham, he of the model looks and pop star wife, is probably the best modern example. With more to distract him than Hugh Hefner in the Playboy Mansion - including those bizarre "promotional" tours - his form has nose-dived. And so has his career.

History appeared to be repeating itself when St. Wayne's unusual sexual preferences were the subject of a series of tabloid exposes on soccer stars visiting brothels.

But, remarkably, his off-the-field antics don't seem to have affected his game.

A hat trick on his Manchester United debut last week had even his biggest critics praising his maturity.

"I don't think Rooney's anything like that," said Holt of comparisons between Rooney and Maradona or Gascoigne.

"I do think the pressure he's under, the expectations, are similar to these people. But he's a very different type of character."

Rooney's looks mean he should also have a lot less to distract him than Beckham et al., which can only be good for his career.

Because playing ugly - like Shrek, not Becks - is the best way to win the beautiful game.

NO MESSIN' WITH MESSINA

Italian soccer used to be as exciting as watching paint dry. But with many of the "stars" now reigning in Spain or England, it's enjoying something of a visual renaissance.

And while the big spenders rule the roost elsewhere, newly promoted Messina is crashing the party in Serie A.

The Sicilian club won again on the weekend and is being talked about as a possible title contender.

Not bad for a team that dreams only of avoiding relegation.


Videos

Photos