Wayne Rooney Is A Worthy Successor To Sir Bobby Charlton For Manchester United And England
Six or seven years ago, when it had become obvious Michael Owen’s chances of breaking his England goalscoring record were fading away, Sir Bobby Charlton sat in a suite at Old Trafford and gazed out at the empty stadium.
Sir Bobby had just released one half of his autobiography, a volume called ‘The England Years’, that looked back over his achievements for the national team.
When I asked him how long he thought his record of 49 goals would last now, he smiled and said he thought he knew the answer.
“I think the lad who’s playing here might be the one to do it, actually,” he said. “I think it might be Wayne Rooney. I’d like that.”
And now we stand on the eve of the year when that most famous record in English football history will indeed be broken by Rooney.
Past and present heroes: Rooney and Charlton
Barring injury, Rooney will move past Gary Lineker’s total of 48 England goals and then equal and surpass Sir Bobby’s mark.
49 is one of the most famous numbers in English football. 49 means Charlton, just like, in the USA, 714 meant Babe Ruth’s home run record. For us, 49 stands for something proud and magical.
It stands for a time when England were a fine team, when they were World Cup winners, a side to be feared.
And it stands for a man we all admire, a fantastic, majestic, humble footballer who once bestrode the game.
I found it interesting back then that Charlton wanted Rooney to be the man to break the record.
Maybe it was partly that he wanted it to be a United player.
Maybe he recognised in Rooney a joy in the game that he had once felt when he was growing up in the north-east.
Maybe he recognised that beyond all the fuss that was around him in those days, Rooney, like him, was a dedicated team player as well as a scorer of goals.
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He was a good judge. When Rooney overtakes 49 in 2015, he will deserve the record.
Sure, he has not won a World Cup like Charlton. And yes, for one reason or another, he has often disappointed at major tournaments.
But that does not make his goals worthless. In fact, even if Rooney never quite became what we dreamed he might when he burst on to the international scene at Euro 2004, we can still be proud of the player he is now.
The record books don’t lie and it is not just Charlton’s 49 that he is bearing down upon.
He will probably break the England appearance record in the next couple of years.
And his claim to be one of the greatest United players will also be strengthened in 2015 as he closes in on the goalscoring marks of Charlton and the great Denis Law, the only two men ahead of him in Old Trafford’s rich history.
Rooney has 224 goals. Law scored 237 times for United and Charlton 249. If Rooney has a good year, he will be out on his own by next Christmas.
It is worth considering, too, that Rooney will have played more often for United than George Best, Mark Hughes or Bryan Robson did by the end of this season.
We can be proud of his everlasting enthusiasm, his consistent excellence for club and country, his refusal to give up. And what Charlton couldn’t have foreseen back in 2008 was that, after plenty of trials and tribulations, Rooney has matured into something close to the complete player at Old Trafford.
To watch him now beginning to master the art of playing in central midfield and attracting rave reviews is to see another side of his talent.
Rooney has always had a sharp football brain. He has always had vision and a talent for subtlety beyond the requirements of a centre forward. And now there are signs that those qualities are coming more and more to the fore at United.
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Manchester United goals
Sure, the return of Michael Carrick has made a big difference and David de Gea has sometimes appeared superhuman in goal. But it is still a thrill to see Rooney finally giving United something in midfield that they lost way back when Paul Scholes began to tire.
At last, they have a player with passing range who can burst beyond his forwards and score goals. The range of his talent is rare indeed.
When it happens, when the 49 falls, perhaps against Lithuania at Wembley at the end of March or a few days later against Italy in Turin, some curmudgeons will persist in belittling Rooney’s achievement.
Not here. When Rooney gets to 49 and then starts to set new marks for others to dream of, he will deserve only cheers.
One day, maybe, we will stop damning him with faint praise and realise we are lucky to be watching him play.
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