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Rooney's place in Manchester United history will always be debated

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol believes Wayne Rooney has fully earned his place as a legend with Man United.
Wayne Rooney reflects on equaling Sir Bobby Charlton's Manchester United goalscoring record.
Jose Mourinho reflects on the significance of Wayne Rooney tying Sir Bobby Charlton's Manchester United goal record.

On Saturday against Reading, Wayne Rooney scored his 249th goal for Manchester United. He kneed Juan Mata's cross into the net, whereupon TV cameras immediately focused on Sir Bobby Charlton, whose record the current club captain now shares. (This is, of course, if we don't count -- as United do not -- the two goals Charlton scored against Verona in the Anglo-Italian Cup; the record really stands at 251 goals.)

Regardless, the reaction to Rooney's goal was mixed. There are many United fans, who believe that records are there to be broken, that the 31-year-old has spent the best years of his career at the club and has been hugely important to the success enjoyed during his time there. As such, he is totally deserving of the accolade.

Since joining United in 2004, Rooney has won five Premier League titles, one Champions League, one FA Cup, two League Cups and the FIFA Club World Cup. While his form has been on a significant decline over the past three years or more, there's no denying that, when he was at his best, he was one of the club's most important players, if not the most important.

During 2009-10, for example, United's hopes of success rested on Rooney's shoulders. He scored 34 goals in 44 games, including the winner in the League Cup final, but an ankle injury suffered against Bayern Munich towards the end of the campaign more or less ended United's season. Rooney missed a title-defining match against Chelsea; United lost and ultimately finished second behind the Stamford Bridge club.

It's a shame for Rooney that, in the one season he really starred, he wasn't rewarded with the major silverware he deserved, though he was also named footballer of the year. He has spent much of his United career sacrificing himself for the sake of the team, playing out of position to allow the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy or Cristiano Ronaldo to steal the show.

In his early years, Rooney was adored by United supporters. He gave everything, working tirelessly for the team and matching that with top ability. He would score important goals and wheel away kissing the badge on his shirt. He talked about how he wanted to spend his entire career at the club and become a legend at Old Trafford.

However, in late 2010, things changed. Whether he was advised badly or had his head turned by the prospect of earning more money elsewhere, Rooney's request for a transfer caused a divide among fans that exists to this day. Especially because, while the player has always denied it -- not surprising as he still plays for United -- it appeared that Manchester City was Rooney's chosen destination.

Wayne Rooney's place in Manchester United history will always be debated by supporters.

Fans were relieved to see Sir Alex Ferguson play a blinder in a subsequent press conference. In front of the world's media, the manager came across as bemused when he talked about his confusion over Rooney's decision to leave a club that had done everything for him.

Following that, Rooney couldn't get away with claiming United no longer matched his ambition and then sign for City, who had just finished fifth. He insisted he had made the biggest mistake of his career and was rewarded with a huge new contract. United finished the season as champions again and Rooney scored in the Champion League final.

Two years later, Rooney was asking to leave the club again, but this time it was Ferguson who confirmed it. Rooney was linked with a move to Chelsea throughout the summer of 2013 and, as opposed to denying the rumours, the only statement he made at the time was to deny reports claiming he had changed his Twitter bio to remove "Man United player." 

United again refused to sell and Rooney again signed a lucrative new contract. Unlike in 2010, though, his performances didn't warrant him becoming the club's top earner, but United were desperate. Following Ferguson's retirement, they were no longer in a position of strength and so bowed to Rooney's demands.

While fans who forgave Rooney in 2010 were just as quick to gloss over the second incident, the player himself revealed in 2015 that he'd told the former manager it was time to go, though he stopped short of saying he made an official transfer request: "I went in to see [Ferguson] and just said 'if you are not going to play me then it might be better for me to move on,'" said Rooney in a BBC documentary

As a result, there are many who would rather United's all-time leading scorer was someone, who wholly dedicated his career to the club. When discussing footballing legends, it's hard to think of someone more impressive than Charlton, so to see his name replaced in the record books by a player like Rooney is hard to take for some. After all, the only reason he's been at the club long enough to score so many goals is because United refused to sell him on the two occasions he asked to go.

That said, how can you deny legendary status to anyone who has scored 249 goals for their club? What's more, to have done so by the age of just 31 -- Charlton was four years older when he netted his final United goal -- is remarkable and deserves praise, even if Rooney is not the player he once was.

The debate will rage on and fans on opposite sides of the argument will not be united. That said, they probably would all be able to agree that Marcus Rashford replacing Rooney as top scorer in 15 years from now would be well received by everyone!

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.

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