Wayne Rooney likely to break Sir Bobby Charlton's record - but does it stack up when he's played against San Marino and Andorra?

COMMENT: It's difficult to decipher who has the better goal record... but Charlton has the World Cup winners' medal

Click to follow
The Independent Football

A striker will savour the goals wherever they come, but it is a pity the unprepossessing town of Serravalle is the location as Wayne Rooney prepares to equal, and possibly break, Sir Bobby Charlton’s England 45-year-old scoring record.

With an accountant in goal and a bank clerk at centre-half San Marino are the opponents Rooney would choose if he had only one game left to score the two goals required.

Rooney, though, is 29 and has no intention of quitting England any year soon. Though he doubtless wants to break the record as soon as possible, if only to put the issue to bed, how much more fitting if he did so in Germany in March.

Instead the match will only provide fuel for those who argue the record is devalued because Rooney has scored so many goals against the lightweights and makeweights that comprise so much of modern international football.

It is true that Rooney already has scored four goals against San Marino, three against Kazakhstan, two apiece against Andorra, Belarus, Slovenia, Macedonia and Estonia plus one each against Liechtenstein and Lithuania.

Indeed, 27 of his goals have come against countries that either did not exist when Charlton was playing, having emerged subsequently from the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, or, like San Marino, did not play international football.

However, in many respects international football is harder than in Charlton’s time. Defences are far more organised and many nations are much more professional with better players. Charlton’s haul includes hat-tricks against United States, Mexico and Switzerland which would be fine achievements now, but were less impressive at the time as the scorelines (respectively 8-1, 8-0, 8-1) underline. Charlton scored four hat-tricks (the other was against Luxembourg), Rooney has yet to get an international hat-trick. But Rooney plays in an era of regular, sometime mass, substitutions so has often been withdrawn just as opponents are tiring and gaps appearing.

Wayne Rooney needs just one goal to equal Sir Bobby Charlton's record

Counties wax and wane, Rooney’s brace against Iceland in 2004 looks more impressive now than it did at the time. Perhaps the best guide is the context of scoreline. In games won by at least five goals Charlton scored 14 times Rooney eight; drop that to four goals and the split narrows to 19-15,three goals and it is 23-22.

Any other clues as to who is more worthy? Rooney has scored twice as many goals than Charlton in competitive matches (34-17) but has played many more of those matches. If the Home Internationals are counted (and they were definitely competitive in spirit) the gap narrows to 34-30.

In tournament finals, perhaps the true test, Rooney has six goals in 17 games, Charlton scored five in 16, but all but one of Charlton’s was in the World Cup finals rather than a European Championships – but then again, most of those were at Wembley.

Charlton helped England win the World Cup in 1966, scoring twice in the semi-final win

Rooney has scored twice against Brazil (which Charlton never managed), they are one apiece against Argentina, only Charlton scored against Italy, and while Charlton, unlike Rooney, has scored against German opposition it was the much-weaker East Germany.

Rooney scored four penalties, Charlton three. Rooney has scored more goals, and a higher percentage, away from home. He has also scored at a faster rate, a goal every 165 minutes to one every 192 minutes for Charlton who was only once, infamously, substituted. But Charlton began his career at left-wing and ended it in midfield while Rooney has usually been a forward, albeit at times a deep-lying or wide one.

What does it all prove? That comparisons are devilishly difficult as well as odious. As with most players Rooney will not be fully appreciated until he retires but in time he would be as celebrated as Charlton were it not for one significant difference. Only Charlton has a World Cup winners’ medal; matching that is Rooney’s next target.