You have to congratulate Wayne Rooney of breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record, but figures are figures and they do not tell the full story. Rooney and Charlton, and let’s not forget the man just behind them, Gary Lineker, all played in different times. Very contrasting times.
Charlton’s career spanned an era that started just a few years after WW2 and continued to 1970. The world was a different shape in those days, the USSR was intact, Yugoslavia was being held together by Tito, and Czechoslavakia had yet to become Czech and Slovakia.
UEFA had around 40-odd members, at best, and England played, on average, eight games a year in Charlton’s era, while Rooney can expect to put on an England shirt 10 times a year. Charlton barely had qualifying competition games, while the bloated state of both the World Cup and European Championship today means that England rarely play the very top opposition. For Charlton’s generation, friendly games against the best nations were more frequent and were often treated in the way Test Matches are in cricket. It was two nations pitting their wits against each other.
Of Rooney’s 50 goals, many have been wracked up against low quality opposition. Rooney is certainly a “flat-track bully” when it comes to scoring goals, over 54% of his 50 have come against such opponents. There are very few San Marinos, Estonians, Kazakhstans and Andorrans on Charlton’s scoring list. Of his 49 goals, only around 25% were netted against “no-hoper” teams, while of Lineker’s 48, around a third were from the lower tier.
This is not Rooney’s fault, of course – you can only beat what’s facing you – but it does suggest that international football’s overall quality has been diluted significantly in the years since 1966 and all that.
A total of 30 Rooney goals have come in 49 qualifying competitions of both the World Cup and European Championship. He has an excellent record in competitive games, 38 in 68, but his scorecard in finals has been disappointing by comparison. Rooney has scored just six times in 17 finals games.
Neither Charlton or Rooney can match Lineker’s World Cup record of 10 goals in 12 games, although Charlton did score four goals in 14 to Rooney’s one in 11 in the premier international competition.
So we’ve established that Rooney, clearly the outstanding player of his somewhat subdued generation, is prolific against the minnows. There is an argument suggesting Rooney’s longevity owes a little to the lack of natural talent at the last few England managers’ disposal. It’s the same type of discussion as daring to suggest that “Sir Bobby” went on a year or two longer than he should have, that he was kept on “for services rendered” by Sir Alf.
But what about goals against what one would call “the big boys”?. If you include Brazil, Germany, Spain, Argentina, Italy, Holland and France among the top section, less than 10% of Rooney’s goals have been scored against these nations. Almost a quarter of Lineker’s goals came from the upper half f the theoretical league table.
Charlton’s “top countries” have to be reassessed. The Home Internationals dominated his career and, accordingly, 16 of his 49 goals were netted against Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Charlton never scored against West Germany or Brazil.
All three marksmen enjoyed their big hauls against lower opposition: Rooney has scored more goals against San Marino than any other country in his list (5), while Lineker found Turkey very much to his taste (6) – a different Turkey than in recent years. Charlton’s thunderbolts flew in Luxembourg’s net (5), but Northern Ireland (6) felt the pain of his shooting more than anyone.
So who is the greatest? The stats will say that Rooney is England’s all-time hero and he’s likely to add more to that tally in the next few years. It is equally possible that, given the dearth of talent around the England set-up, that Rooney will continue for some time.
In terms of “quality returns”, and I do not mean outstanding goals, Gary Lineker has to top the list. In terms of cultural contribution to the game, Bobby Charlton has to be the choice. Rooney is a child of his time – and a goalscorer of his time – and that’s all today’s fans (especially those in the red half of Manchester) are concerned with. It’s Wayne’s World…and Wayne’s record.
Rooney’s career in numbers
50 England goals in 107 games
38 competitive goals in 68 games
26 countries scored against
1 World Cup finals goal
49 England goals in 106 games
27 competitive goals in 57 games
19 countries scored against
4 World Cup finals goals
48 England goals in 80 games
24 competitive goals in 47 games
21 countries scored against
10 World Cup finals goals