History Has Finally Been Kind To Record-Breaker Wayne Rooney

The Manchester United and England legend is finally getting his flowers
13:00, 08 Sep 2023

Wayne Rooney will go down in history as one of English football’s all-time greats. While the England scoring record he broke on this day in 2015 has since been usurped by Harry Kane, he remains Manchester United’s goal-leader. An astonishing achievement when you consider the ground that covers. Rooney has five Premier League title medals on his mantle alongside a Champions League gong and multiple domestic cup honours. His place in English football’s upper echelons feels so secure, like it has never been in doubt since the moment Clive Tyldesley implored us to “Remember the name, Wayne Rooney!”. It’s safe to say we remembered, cheers Clive.

Yet there was a time when the populace was not as sure about the Liverpool-born dynamo. The tabloid press ran with insecurities over Rooney’s place in his teams and in football as a whole. Was he a striker or a number ten? Later, central midfield would be added to this endless debate, as Sir Alex Ferguson sought an heir to Paul Scholes that United wouldn’t find until Bruno Fernandes turned up and gave joyless pundits something to moan about.


His playing position wasn’t the only question surrounding Rooney. The main crux of the debate surrounding England’s former captain was whether he was ‘world class’ or not. An ethereal phrase that differs in designation from person to person. The truth is expectations of Rooney were sky-high since he lashed in that goal against Arsenal aged 16. The one that Tyldesley prophetically soundtracked. 

Rooney was doomed to live in the period of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. More reductive observers claimed that, if he wasn’t equalling that stratospheric pair, then he could not claim true greatness. This is one of many metrics where time has been kind to Rooney. After all, in the end other players only began surpassing Messi and Ronaldo when age blunted their other-wordly abilities. Even then, the former won the World Cup last winter.

Of course, as with assessing any member of the ‘golden generation’, a lack of international success haunts Rooney. But can any Three Lions star claim to have had a single tournament as electric and astounding as the forward’s turn at Euro 2004. Braces against Switzerland and Croatia put Rooney on the international map before a broken metatarsal took him out of the tournament. But his performances caught the eye of Sir Alex Ferguson, who signed him from Everton that summer. Rooney marked his Manchester United debut with a hat-trick against Fenerbahce in the Champions League.


The precocious forward would enter United folklore, eventually amassing 253 goals in 559 games and overtaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s long-standing record. But his time at Old Trafford wasn’t all smooth-sailing. Tabloid scandals involving alleged infidelity, a boxing match with Phil Bardsley in his kitchen and various other misbehaviour threatened to derail one of England’s greats. It was a sad echo of the career of Paul Gascoigne, another between-the-lines creative genius blunted by a press eager to build up stars only to knock them down. 

There were footballing struggles too. Times where Rooney went public about wanting to leave Manchester United. But Ferguson was always there with a steady hand on the tiller, ready to talk down a player whose hot streak made him such an asset on the pitch, even if it occasionally spilled out off it.

But still, while he played, the debate raged over what Rooney was. What he represented. Some called him a near-miss, again invoking ‘Gazza’ when referring to him as a player who never quite reached his immense potential. The position chatter never went away either. Detractors argued Rooney could not be considered a top striker when he only topped 20 Premier League goals twice in his career.

But this is to misunderstand what Rooney offered. Not only did he bring the best out of strike partners as diverse as Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov, Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo, but he did so while scoring consistently himself. Rooney worked harder than anyone on the pitch, week after week. He was capable of genius that would become enshrined in history. His overhead kick against Manchester City will outlive us all. 

Rooney never became Ronaldo or Messi. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll realise no other footballer did during that period either. Does it make Karim Benzema or Luka Modric less electrifying knowing they weren’t quite as good as perhaps the two greatest players of all-time? 

Happily, retirement has seen Rooney finally get his flowers. Shorn of the tabloid melodrama and with a body of work to look back on without the tiresome debate over his best position or whining that he isn’t Messi, the current DC United manager has taken his rightful place among the all-time greats. Clive was pretty spot on all those years ago. It turns out we really did remember the name Wayne Rooney.

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