Measuring Wayne Rooney’s ever-growing legacy

Having recently secured the title of England’s all-time leading scorer, and closing in on a similar feat with Manchester United, how will history treat Wayne Rooney?

Wayne Rooney’s footballing career may become the acid test in future for measuring just how good sports fans’ memories really are.

Rooney’s career has gone through ups and downs unlike those of many of his contemporaries, and it might be fair to simply see that as the by-product of a career that was tipped for superstardom since he broke on the scene as a 16-year-old.

Yet opinions remain divided on whether Rooney ever really fulfilled the promise that he showed back in his early days at Everton, or even upon his arrival at Manchester United.

That’s a particularly steep yardstick to be measured against though. How can anyone realistically be expected to live up to a professional debut that was marked in such truly spectacular fashion?

Then, how can you follow on from arriving at one of the world’s biggest clubs only to score a debut hat-trick in the marquee club competition in world football?

Rooney has gone on from those fresh-faced highlights to build a career that, on the whole, has been outstanding for both club and country. Yet his detractors have more than enough ammunition to build a case against him still.

The player I like is Wayne Rooney. For me, Rooney is a fantastic footballer. I can imagine him playing alongside me. – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Rooney has never been the picture of consistency, and as a result his goals come in patches. Long droughts are followed by spates of red-hot form in a seemingly never-ending cycle.

His attitude and motivations could easily be called into question too. The 29-year-old has struggled with fitness throughout his career, as his weight often fluctuated with his performance levels. That’s not to mention his habit of losing his temper as well.

On top of that, Rooney has at times been accused of being particularly susceptible to the influences of those around him, in particular his long-term agent Paul Stretford. There can be no argument that Stretford has done a stellar job for his client financially, but has it always been to the benefit of Rooney’s play on the pitch? Well, that’s a different debate.

Jun 19, 2014; Sao Paulo, BRAZIL; England forward Wayne Rooney (10) reacts in the second half against Uruguay during the 2014 World Cup at Arena Corinthians. Uruguay defeated England 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

During the most recent international break, Rooney scored his 50th international goal with a penalty kick against Switzerland, allowing him to overtake Bobby Charlton as his nation’s all-time leading goalscorer in the process.

Being placed in the company of strikers like Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen is one thing, but standing at the forefront of that group is even more impressive.

For his club, England’s all-time leading scorer faces even stiffer competition on his path to achieving history though.

At the top of Manchester United’s goalscoring charts, once again standing in Rooney’s way is the legendary Charlton, although he is also yet to pass Dennis Law too.

In the rear view mirror in the total goals picture for United, Rooney has seen off the likes of George Best, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Dennis Viollet.

Yet is it a result of his ability, or the fact that he has managed to combine it with great longevity that he has achieved such heights on both fronts?

For England, Charlton may have played in 106 games compared to Rooney’s 108, but there was only one other player in the top 20 scorers to surpass 100 appearances, and that was midfielder Steven Gerrard.

At United, Rooney’s 484 games doesn’t look quite as out of place in the context of their great goalscorers, yet there are still plenty of notable names who scored at a similar rate to Rooney during their time in Manchester.

Rooney has averaged a goal every 2.07 games with the Red Devils, a ratio that is not too dissimilar to many of his striking peers in the club’s modern era.

Andy Cole scored 121 goals with the Old Trafford club, good enough for a ratio of a goal every 2.27 games. Ronaldo notched up 118 goals, one every 2.47 games, a mark he’s improved incredibly to a goal every 0.96 games at Real Madrid. And then you have Van Nistelrooy who came in at a goal every 1.46 games at Old Trafford too.

Rooney needs five more goals to overtake Law into second place, and only 17 to seal the top spot in his club’s history. In other words, with a contract until 2019 it’s an inevitability.

Wayne Rooney is for me a once in a generation player. One of those special players, who is not comparable to any other. – Lionel Messi

As long as he hits no injury speed bumps along the way, it should be a mere formality for Rooney.

So how will he be remembered after a career where he broke so many records?

For England, up until this point anyway, Rooney will unfortunately be associated with failure. A member of the so-called golden generation that never even came close to performing to the peak of their abilities at a major tournament.

He may have the goals, but as of right now, Rooney still doesn’t have the World Cup medal that Bobby Charlton claimed. That matters.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing between Rooney and England by any means either. Moments like these won’t be easy to overlook.

There was the impetuous sending off which contributed to England’s downfall against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup.

And then four years later in South Africa while heading up an underachieving team, Rooney voiced his displeasure with England’s traveling fans after a crushing 0-0 draw with Algeria.

Now, he’s the captain of his country, as well as their leading goalscorer, yet that evidence still leaves a lot for England’s fans to look past in the bigger picture.

It’s no different for Manchester United either, in fact it may even be more difficult.

Aug 4, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney (10) kicks the ball in the second half against Liverpool at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

When Rooney scores in front of the Stretford End, the crowd still erupts as vociferously as they have always done for their no. 10, but deep inside there’s a history that has to rankle with United fans.

Not once, but twice, Rooney has reportedly handed in transfer requests at Manchester United (2010 and 2013). There aren’t many ways quicker to burn your bridges with a core of loving sports fans than to proclaim that you wan’t to leave them to play elsewhere. Yet on the occasions when Rooney did it, it was under the shadow of him potentially leaving for hated rivals like Chelsea and Manchester City.

On both occasions Rooney made his demands, got significant pay rises, and eventually backed down. In a sport where the club badge is supposed to mean everything, how can a player be forgiven so easily for using the club he represents as leverage?

Right now, these are the sort of stains that leave their mark on Wayne Rooney’s legacy. They may not be long-lasting though.

Whether it’s 20, 30, 40 or 50 years from now, eventually we’ll reach a point where it will become harder to remember the specifics of Rooney’s play style, or the minutiae away from the game that impacted his work on the pitch.

When that day comes, luckily for Rooney his numbers will speak for themselves.