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Rooney dismisses talk of Owen rift

Rooney insisted he was the best of pals with Owen, saying stories of a rift between himself and his England strike partner were completely without foundation.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2006 19:50 IST

Wayne Rooney insisted on Monday "he was the best of pals with Michael Owen", saying stories of a rift between himself and his England strike partner were "completely without foundation" after tabloid newspaper reports said the duo had fallen out over the Manchester United star's alleged £700,000 gambling debt.

Rooney's debt was said to have accrued with a bookmaker introduced to him and other members of the England squad by Owen, weekend newspaper reports said.

Sources close to Rooney have said the player is now furious with Owen for putting him in touch with bookmaker Steve Smith, who is a business associate of the Newcastle player.

But a spokesman for Rooney, and his management company Proactive Sports Management, has denied the claims.

"Any suggestion of a rift or a dispute between Wayne and Michael are completely without foundation as far as Wayne is concerned.

"Wayne and Michael remain the best of pals."

But earlier a source "close to Rooney" told Monday's Daily Mail tabloid: "Michael Owen should be someone who puts his arm around Wayne's shoulder. Wayne is pretty pissed off with Michael for introducing him to these people."

Owen introduced Rooney and other England squad members to Smith after becoming tired of running the team gambling school, reports said.

Up until that point, Owen took the bets but recruited Smith to take care of matters when the sums of money being wagered became too large.

Smith set up a private bookmakers called Goldchip Ltd to handle the bets which only received its gambling licence last week. Prior to that Smith was reported to have acted as a betting agent for the players.

Smith insisted he had not been operating illegally.

"I have never operated as an unlicensed bookmaker," he said. I got my own license on Thursday last week. Up until then I was authorised to receive bets as any agent to a bookmaker who has a permit.

"It is all completely legal."

The Times noted that while sources close to Rooney had tried to point the finger at Owen, none of the other members of the squad who have dealt with Smith, including John Terry, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand, have had any complaints.

Rooney meanwhile gave no indication that the furore was affecting his game, scoring one goal and setting up another in United's 2-0 win over Arsenal on Sunday.

"If you look at my performance that answers the question," he said when quizzed on his gambling habits.

And Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson dismissed the reports surrounding the 20-year-old.

"It is just nonsense but these things will happen to the boy throughout his life," said Ferguson. "We have had this with George Best, we had it with Paul Gascoigne and we had it with David Beckham.

"It is rubbish and we shall dismiss it the best we can."

Following an initial report concerning Rooney's alleged gambling habit in a Sunday newspaper, the Football Association reacted by saying England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson would speak to any England players reportedly involved in a bid to prevent the issue becoming a distraction at this June's World Cup.

First Published: Apr 10, 2006 19:50 IST