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In case you missed it, last week Wayne Rooney surpassed Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249 Manchester United goals to become the Red Devils’ all-time leading goal scorer. The hyperbole that has accompanied such an achievement means that it is unlikely that you did, in fact, miss it. Yet the comparisons between the previous record holder and the current one that have followed throughout the week have been nothing but laughable. Whilst it is undoubtedly a fantastic achievement, Rooney does not come anywhere near the legendary status of Sir Bobby Charlton.
Firstly, let us contemplate the record itself. Many pundits have proclaimed Rooney to be the far superior player due to the fact that he broke the record in almost 200 fewer games than Sir Bobby. Yet this is to misunderstand the roles that these two players had for their sides. Whilst the Croxteth-born Rooney has played the majority of his career in the striker’s position, Charlton was deployed by Sir Matt Busby in a much deeper role, thus rendering the comparison fairly useless. It is hardly unsurprising that Rooney has amassed a higher number of goals in a shorter amount of games, purely due to the fact that his role in the team is to score goals. Having never seen Charlton in the flesh, it is harder to compare from a personal point of view, but by all accounts, Charlton was a more effective player for the team, producing assists and goals from a deeper lying position, something Rooney has tried but failed to do in the later years of his career.
Whilst the word ‘legend’ is bandied around a lot in the modern era, there is little argument to suggest that Sir Bobby isn’t a legend of the game. He held both the Manchester United and England goal scoring records for well over 40 years, and of course won the World Cup and Ballon d’Or in 1966. Holding the England goal scoring record for that length of time is a remarkable achievement, particularly for a player who didn’t play as a striker. On a similar note, the international football scene of the 1960s was a completely different beast to the one that we see today. Whereas Rooney has collected most of his England goals in pointless European and World Cup qualifiers against minnows such as San Marino and Moldova, not only did Charlton have to face much tougher opposition on a regular basis for his country, he scored in games when it counted. Every England player since 1966 has tried and failed to emulate Sir Bobby and the rest of the class of ’66, with some coming closer than others.
And Rooney is amongst a whole host of contemporary England players who most definitely come under the ‘others’ category. As mentioned previously, his England goal scoring record is hardly even worth considering as an achievement, given that he has still only scored once at a World Cup for England. Many of his fans come up with multiple excuses for his poor showings at major tournaments, yet the reality is that Rooney hasn’t put in a decent showing for his national side since Euro 2004. Whilst this is a criticism of Rooney, it can also be expanded to almost every England player of the Premier League era, and a reason why Rooney’s contemporary Steven Gerrard also cannot be considered a legend of the game. When the crunch time came for their country, both of them buckled under the pressure. Paul Scholes is perhaps the only member of this generation who could argue to be excluded from such criticism, given that for the majority of his international career he was played out of position. Unfortunately, like almost all of his England teammates, Rooney cannot be considered a legend purely because of his lack of influence at major tournaments. The counter-argument would be that Lionel Messi hasn’t won anything at international level either, yet there is a large difference between getting to the final of the World Cup and Copa America, and not even getting past the quarter final stage at any major competition.
If the word ‘legend’ is to be associated with Rooney, then his behaviour must also come under scrutiny, and in this area, more than any, he falls a long way short of Sir Bobby. Interestingly, Alan Shearer mentioned on Match of the Day last Saturday that Rooney stood out, because he would play for ‘£30 a week’. The Newcastle man must obviously have been talking about another Wayne Rooney; either that or he forgets that the same man left his club out to dry in 2010 in order to get a pay rise from the measly sum of £90,000 per week. To list all of Rooney’s immoral activities would take up another article in itself; I’m sure that deep down the comparisons don’t sit well with Sir Bobby either.
Whilst ‘Wazza’ will likely extend his lead at the top of the England and Manchester United scoring charts during the twilight years of his career, there is little doubt as to whether he is a legend of the game or not, and, in a footballing and behavioural context, he falls far short of the standards set by the great Sir Bobby Charlton. Rooney may be passing Charlton on the list, but Sir Bobby knows his place in the footballing pantheon is secure.