Wayne Rooney deserves more respect for Man United and England record
As you may have heard, Wayne Rooney is now Manchester United's all-time joint-record goalscorer, alongside Sir Bobby Charlton.
His instinctive knee-flick to open the scoring in the 4-0 FA Cup third-round win against Reading on Saturday put him on 249 goals for the club. It's only a matter of time before he becomes United's outright record goalscorer.
Among the Premier League's top clubs, we're living in something of a golden age for record goalscorers. The three most successful sides in terms of Premier League points since the division's inauguration 25 years ago are Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. All three have seen their goalscoring record broken since then, courtesy of Rooney, Frank Lampard and Thierry Henry respectively (in fact, Arsenal's was also broken by Ian Wright a decade beforehand). Rooney's tally of 249 goals, however, is the highest figure of the three -- and after he overtakes Charlton with his next goal, he will surely go on to extend the record.
Rooney's record is particularly remarkable for four reasons. First, he's reached the 249-goal mark extraordinarily quickly. Yes, he's been at Manchester United for approaching 13 years, but he has scored 249 goals in over 200 fewer appearances than Charlton. Of course, it's tough to directly compare the two, considering the massive difference in terms of era, their position and Manchester United's level of dominance during their respective playing careers.
Second, Rooney has rarely been considered a pure goalscorer. In that sense he is similar to Charlton, who was more of an attacking midfielder than a forward. Rooney, however, spent long periods forced to sacrifice his individual game for the sake of Cristiano Ronaldo, playing out wide rather than through the middle. More recently he's also been fielded in a slightly unconvincing midfield role, meaning his goalscoring return has inevitably dropped.
Only twice, in 2009-10 and 2011-12, has he reached more than 20 league goals and only in the former season was he fielded as United's most advanced forward on a reasonably regular basis. For the majority of his career, there's been much more to Rooney's game than scoring goals.
Third, Rooney hasn't just scored prolifically -- he's also scored great goals. In the near-half-century history of the Goal of the Season award, he is the only player to have triumphed three times. In 2004-05, his volley against Middlesbrough won him the award, two years later he converted a counterattack against Bolton to take it for a second time, and in 2010-11 his extraordinary bicycle kick winner in the Manchester derby saw him complete his hat trick.
There are plenty more superb goals, too. His volley against Newcastle was probably better than that volley against Middlesbrough in the same season. Indeed, Rooney opened his Manchester United account with a hat trick on his debut against Fenerbahce with three goals all struck from outside the box. That was quite a contrast from what United fans were accustomed to, as their previous main man was Ruud van Nistelrooy, an unashamed goal-poacher who scored just one of his 150 goals from outside the penalty area.
Fourth, and perhaps most interestingly, Rooney has now surpassed Charlton at both club and international level. His record of 49 goals was one of the most historic numbers in English football, given extra credit when Gary Lineker surprisingly failed to equal it, remaining stuck on 48. Rooney has extended the record to 53 and should, in the next year, also become England's most-capped player. He's currently on 119 caps, with Peter Shilton's long-standing record of 125 sure to be surpassed.
Holding both the goalscoring record for a major club and a major country is quite a feat, although a few of Rooney's contemporaries have also achieved this. Lionel Messi has the records for Barcelona and Argentina, Ronaldo for Real Madrid and Portugal, Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden and Henry for Arsenal and France. It's notable Rooney is the only player whose club record is based in his home country, however, which makes you think his reputation in England should be much loftier.
Of course, examine his recent years and there are plenty of criticisms. Some United fans remain irked by Rooney twice appearing set on leaving Old Trafford, in 2010 and 2013. His on-field performances have also been disappointing over the past couple of years. For England there's a sense he hasn't performed on the major stage, at least not since his breakout tournament of Euro 2004. At times he has appeared guaranteed a place in the side, regardless of under-performance and tactical concerns about his positioning. For those who have witnessed his career from beginning to end, particularly England fans, there's a sense of disappointment that doesn't correlate with these extraordinary records.
But these records will stand the test of time. Rooney is probably underappreciated in both his own country, and in his own time. To become the record goalscorer for both your country and the biggest club in that country is an extremely rare achievement, and he deserves tremendous praise.
What's interesting, however, is that Manchester United's record of 249 goals is only the 20th-highest goalscoring record among England's 92 league clubs. While many would be familiar with Everton's Dixie Dean, with his 383 goals in the inter-war years, few would be able to name the two above him on the list: Wycombe's Tony Horseman, who scored an astonishing 416 goals in the 1960s and 1970s, or Yeovil Town's Johnny Hayward, who scored a ludicrous 548 goals in the early 20th century.
Among Rooney's achievement, those two probably deserve another wave of praise too.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.