Rooney’s goal prompts row over greatness

Past him: Rooney has overtaken Bobby Charlton, his predecessor at Manchester United. © PA

Wayne Rooney has become Manchester United’s joint-top scorer of all time, with 249 goals for the club. He is on track to break the record outright. Is he the country’s greatest striker?

The last time it happened, nobody owned a computer and the Vietnam War was still raging. By the time Sir Bobby Charlton (knighted in 1994) left Manchester United in April 1973, he had notched 249 goals for the club. His towering record placed him head and shoulders above all subsequent Man U players – until now.

On Saturday evening, seven minutes into his 543rd appearance for the club, Wayne Rooney got his right knee to a lofted pass and eased the ball past the Reading keeper. With this goal, he equalled Charlton’s record – ‘a proud moment’, he later confessed.

All eyes are now on United’s game against Hull City on Tuesday, where Rooney will hope to score a 250th.

Rooney is no stranger to records. In February 2003, aged just 17 years and 111 days, he became the youngest player to represent the England national team, and in September of the same year, he became its youngest ever goalscorer.

As he celebrated his achievement this weekend, he may have reflected on the exciting start to his career, particularly when he was selected in UEFA’s ‘team of the tournament’ after the 2004 European Championships.

Arguably his finest moment came during a Euro 2016 qualifier last year, when he netted a penalty against Switzerland to become England’s highest ever scorer. The previous record – 49 – had been held by none other than Sir Bobby.

But Rooney was only the latest of many strikers tipped to surpass Charlton: players such as Alan Shearer and Michael Owen were unable to fulfil confident predictions that they would do so, and Gary Lineker fell agonisingly short. It looked like a record that might stand for ever.

When Rooney proved otherwise, fans were quick to anoint him the greatest striker in the country’s history. His reputation has only been burnished by this latest achievement…

Roo beauty

Hats off to Rooney, say some. He still has a few years ahead of him, and is all but certain to break the Manchester United record outright. As the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel points out, he will have done so far more quickly than Charlton did. By the time he retires, the case will be closed: he will be the best striker his club and his country have ever had.

But TalkSport’s Michael Benson says that individual goals are not the best measure of greatness. Rooney has not been part of a successful England team or made the difference when the team has truly needed it. His record only tells part of the story. And Tim Joyce of RealClearSports thinks that such debate is pointless. It is impossible to compare players from different eras in sport. Rules, styles of play and sport science are constantly changing, and we can never know who would have performed differently in another time.

You Decide

  1. Is Wayne Rooney the best living English player?
  2. Is it possible to compare sports stars of different eras?


  1. Write three questions you would like to ask Wayne Rooney about his achievements (and, if possible, what answers you think he might give).
  2. Write a discussion between two sports stars from different eras (or different sports, if you prefer). They should both explain why they think they were greater than the other.

Some People Say...

“The team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”

Mia Hamm

What do you think?

Q & A

Is it going to be decades again before I see someone else break Rooney’s records?
Rooney’s records for both club and country looks likely to stand for a while: there is no obvious candidate to replace him. There is nobody else in the current England squad with more than eight goals at the moment, although there are a lot of young players in the team.
When can I watch Rooney try to score a 250th?
Manchester United play Hull City in the semi-final first leg of the EFL Cup on Tuesday (tomorrow) at 8pm. The second leg follows on Thursday January 26th (before which United have two Premier League fixtures). That said, it is not certain whether Rooney will get to play, as United’s manager José Mourinho intends to make sweeping changes to his starting XI before the next match.

Word Watch

Rooney’s England record stood until 2006 when Theo Walcott was selected, aged 17 years and 75 days.
2004 European Championships
Rooney scored four goals in the tournament, but England were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
European teams now play more games in the qualification stages for World Cup and European Championship tournaments than they used to. Charlton’s England team also played more friendlies because they qualified automatically for the 1966 World Cup as hosts.
The Swiss are one of 26 international opponents whom Rooney has scored against.
There are still many players ahead of Rooney for other national teams. He remains far behind Ali Daei, who holds the world record, scoring 109 goals for Iran between 1993 and 2006.
Gary Lineker
Lineker had a chance to draw level with Charlton’s national record when he took a penalty in a friendly against Brazil in 1992. He missed it and was controversially substituted in a game a few weeks later which turned out to be his final appearance for England.