An unorthodox flick of Wayne Rooney’s right leg this weekend put him into exalted company.
His 249th goal had been claimed in hallowed red to move level with Sir Bobby Charlton as Manchester United’s leading scorer. With the iconic septuagenarian also usurped by him more than a year ago in the record books for England, a cherished place in the annals would seem assured.
Yet the relationship between the Red Devils support and the boy wonder gleefully exclaimed by them as the ‘White Pele’ upon arrival from Everton in 2004 has long become soured.
The sense of appreciation was palpable as Reading were put to the sword in the FA Cup’s third round, but adulation?
That hard-earned feeling had dissipated for many watching on in Old Trafford and beyond. A fissure created by 2010’s transfer request and strongly-reported desire to make the rancorous switch to Manchester City amid barbs about ambition simply cannot be healed by any volume of goals, with these festering wounds re-opened three years later because of an open flirtation with Chelsea after famously becoming “angered and confused”.
It is a given that legendary figures such as Charlton, George Best, Bryan Robson and ex-team-mate Ryan Giggs rank higher in the United Pantheon.
As impending top marksman, Rooney should be expected to slot easily into the fifth-place when considering the team’s finest-ever servants. But if a poll was conducted to rank such servants, it would be no surprise to see the likes of Duncan Edwards, Denis Law, Roy Keane, Eric Cantona, Peter Schmeichel and Cristiano Ronaldo comfortably edge him.
Even beloved peers Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic could also finish ahead, while fellow strikers Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mark Hughes scored fewer but remain more loved.
Law and Schmeichel both wore the loathed sky blue of their cross-town rivals, with the former even thinking he had relegated United with a famous back-heeled effort more than 40 years ago.
Ronaldo also made no secret of his desire to move to Real Madrid long before his then world-record £80 million (Dh483.7m) transfer in 2009. On paper, these appear worse betrayals than Rooney’s.
If football support was a binary pursuit, such details would earn at least the same amount of derision. That such a viewpoint is brushed aside by many shows the influence played by raw passion.
Statistics alone are not enough to rank greatness when emotion is involved.
It ensures memories of the starlet who struck a hat-trick against Fenerbahce on debut, the selfless colleague who played a deferential role to Ronaldo as the 2007/08 Champions League was claimed and the ruthless marksman of 2010/11 are pushed aside.
Rooney’s sins of the past are inextricable, no matter his laudable achievements in the present.
When Charlton’s goal mark is imminently bettered, his place in lore will not be overtaken.
I find it amazing that I equal sir Bobby Charltons record and this is a headline in the mail. pic.twitter.com/MXCs1HFooT— Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) January 8, 2017
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