Rooney Record Does Not Make Him England's Greatest Ever Goalscorer

It says much about how tough a sell an effective dead-rubber like England-Switzerland is that, when Roy Hodgson brought Wayne Rooney off against San Marino, one immediately and repeatedly expressed perception was that it was because it might mean the striker gets his record-breaking 50th goal in front of more paying fans at Wembley.

It’s been that drab a week around Hodgson’s side, with that little to talk about, other than the English captain adding to his lot of goals. In that sense, something like Bobby Charlton’s milestone was welcome.

For all the words said about it, though, it’s still fair to discuss what a record like that actually means beyond just being the highest scorer.

The way it is mentioned almost seems shorthand for sporting greatness.

It certainly doesn’t mean Rooney is England’s greatest goalscorer. That simply can’t be said when strikers like Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer have top-scored at international tournaments, and thereby scored so many more consequential goals. Rooney isn’t even England’s most prolific scorer - which is what is usually the most relevant measure for goal-getters - given that he scored once every 163 minutes, but Lineker hit every 136, Jimmy Greaves every 117 and Nat Lofthouse every 95, albeit in a more open era.

In some ways, Rooney claiming this record but never scoring the goals that even put England into a semi-final - let alone win anything - is reflective of his career. It is fine achievement that should rightfully be respected and recognised, but still only achievement to a certain level, that has some caveats.

In the same way, although many people point to a Champions League and five Premier League medals in any debate about whether Rooney has fulfilled his potential, there is still the slight sense that he “only” contributed to most of those wins rather than truly took command of them in the way he suggested he might in his sensational first tournament performances at Euro 2004.

None of this is to do down Rooney, who will rightfully go down as one of England’s finest ever players, but this is not necessarily his finest achievement.

There’s been similar talk about Robbie Keane in Ireland over the past few days, as he reclaimed the record of scoring more goals than anyone else in European Championship qualifying from Cristiano Ronaldo, and edged within one of Gerd Muller’s total haul for West Germany.

For all his qualities, though, the Irish striker simply shouldn’t be talked about it in the same way as those two giants of the game. Merely repeating the numbers, meanwhile, adds a sheen that isn’t always warranted - especially when you consider that his last five goals came against Gibraltar, and wouldn’t really have affected the distribution of the six points if they weren’t scored.

That is a world away from what Keane should really be recognised for when his international goalscoring is discussed - the three key goals in the 2002 World Cup, and the series of crucial match-winners in the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign.

These were strikes with genuine meaning, and certainly more meaning than just repeating numbers as short hand.

It is why records like this deserve recognition, but not necessarily reverence purely for the record.


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