Sir Geoff Hurst believes Wayne Rooney is already a "true great" but claims England's current record goalscorer Sir Bobby Charlton is on another level.
Rooney is presently on 48 international goals, one shy of Charlton's haul, and is expected to pass the 1966 World Cup winner over the course of England's next two Euro 2016 qualification fixtures, at San Marino on Saturday and at home to Switzerland on Tuesday.
Hurst was a significant figure, alongside Charlton, in England's memorable team in 1966 and scored the hat-trick that inspired a 4-2 victory over West Germany in the tournament's final.
He is a passionate admirer of Rooney, who remains a divisive figure despite being the England captain and winner of both five Premier League titles and the Champions League, and considers him unfortunate to be the subject of such intense criticism and scrutiny, even if he believes Charlton's achievements remain superior.
"Rooney's a true great," said Hurst, who was speaking at the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for Bo66y The Movie, a documentary about England great Bobby Moore.
Hurst sympathised with Rooney coming under focus for a recent Manchester United goal drought, saying: "I'd have the same issue when I was playing for England or West Ham where I'd have a patch not scoring - but everybody didn't harp on about it.
"Figure-wise, of course, if he goes above (Charlton's 49 goals) it's a great achievement, no question at all. The only thing I would say is if you're making comparisons, Wayne is a front player, whereas Bobby Charlton scored 49 goals as a midfield player. It just shows you the astonishing ability of Sir Robert Charlton.
"There is a little way to go, when you make comparisons as players. It's not only their ability, it's what they achieved in the game, and of course Bobby Charlton was the member of a World-Cup winning team, which Wayne's not yet. There's that differential there, which I would always argue.
"But his is a great achievement. (Rooney is) a terrific player, with or without the number of goals he's scored. His performances at Man United and England have been terrific over the years."
Rooney, who has 105 caps, one fewer than Charlton, can also potentially secure a superior goals-to-games ratio against San Marino on Saturday. Twenty-two of Charlton's goals came in friendly fixtures, compared to Rooney's 14 so far, but Hurst remains convinced it is easier to score goals in international football in the modern era than it was when Charlton was at his peak.
"You'd have to say the group for the Euros is an easy group," Hurst said.
"When you play against lesser teams, as a front player you're more likely to score more goals. Generally speaking, there's more teams involved in World Cup qualifying (today), but I don't want to detract from what a great player he is.
"I wasn't surprised when he got the three goals the other night (for United against Club Brugge). He was always going to score sooner or later because he's got ability. He hasn't lost his edge, he's not lost his fitness, and he's got tremendous experience now."
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