The charitable side of: Wayne Rooney

Graham Willgoss

Children's welfare charity SOS Children has backed the controversial striker to front its campaign.

Racking up £700,000 in gambling debts would ruin the lives of most of us mere mortals, but when you're an England football star worth £29m, it must be no more than mildly irritating. Almost more annoying to Wayne Rooney last week must have been media reports of a rift between himself and his international striking partner Michael Owen, who is a business associate of the bookmaker owed the money. The stories inevitably upset the odds of a World Cup win for England this summer.

But despite the negative publicity, FIFA and children's welfare charity SOS Children have taken a gamble on Rooney as an ambassador for their joint World Cup campaign.

They have launched '6 villages for 2006' as the official charity campaign of the tournament, with the aim of raising enough money through donations from fans to construct six new SOS Children's Villages for hundreds of orphaned, abandoned and destitute children in Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Ukraine and Vietnam. "I was made up when I was asked to get involved," Rooney said at the campaign launch. "I know how much it means to have a family that supports you, so I am delighted I can give my support to these kids."

In fact, the 20-year-old is a veteran when it comes to charity work.

As a Manchester United team member, he is an ambassador for Unicef, and earlier this month he auctioned his football boots for the Mines Advisory Group. On his 18th birthday he also became a patron of Alder Hey Children's Hospital, near his family home in Liverpool. "It shows clearly that his feet are on the ground," says Christine Don, fundraising manager at Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust.

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