It was always going to be Wayne Rooney that took the penalty. Picking up the ball, he walked confidently towards the spot before placing the ball down. Hands on hips, Rooney stood quietly looking at the goalkeeper who stood between him and greatest. With England leading and only six minutes of regular time left, he could afford to miss but Rooney was never going to. The stadium was silent as Rooney started his run up but erupted in cheers as his rifled shot smashed into the back of the net. Rooney had done it, he had beaten Sir Bobby Charlton’s long standing record of 49 goals for England and in doing so became England’s all time leading goalscorer. At 29 years old, Rooney had managed to do what the likes of Shearer, Greaves, Lineker and Owen had failed to do, etching himself into the record books.
After the match, an emotional Rooney gave an impromptu yet rousing speech to his England teammates challenging them all especially Harry Kane and Theo Walcott to beat his record. He singled out Ross Barkley for praise after the Everton midfielder shone in a match that he started from the bench. Fabian Delph has started the match but only lasted 9 seconds before pulling up with a hamstring injury gave Barkley his chance. Delph like Rooney entered the record books that night but for all the wrong reasons becoming England’s shortest ever international appearance. His injury however couldn’t mar Rooney’s night as the England captain finally grabbed the record for his own.
There is an argument that can be made that suggests Rooney’s path to 50 was much easier than Charlton’s for a variety of reason. Firstly the number of internationals played currently has rapidly increased since the sixties when Charlton ran riot giving Rooney a better chance of beating the record than ever before. In addition changes to the weight of the ball and the rules which favours the attacker more have also aided the Manchester United frontman in his quest. Finally the teams that England faced were arguably easier opponents than Charlton faced. Rooney benefited greatly by playing and scoring against smaller nations like Andorra, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein and San Marino which between them contributed to 13 of his 50 goals to date. Against tougher opponents, especially in major tournaments Rooney has struggled only managing 6 goals in total which included braces against Croatia and Switzerland at Euro 2004 and single goals against the Ukraine at Euro 2012 and Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Charlton on the other hand excelled against the best teams of his day like Portugal, Argentina and the Soviet Union. His brace against a tough Portuguese side including Eusebio set England on its way towards victory in the 1966 World Cup, a feat that Rooney has not managed to match. But like Rooney a majority of Charlton’s goals came in either friendlies (22 vs 14 for Rooney), in qualifying (9 vs 30 for Rooney) or the now defunct British Home Championships (13 goals). In fact out of Charlton’s 49 goals, 16 came against the home nations – Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Regardless of how they got their goals, both players are phenomenal in their own right. Charlton finished his England career at aged 32 shortly after being knocked out of the 1970 World Cup by a Gerd Muller inspired West Germany. At 29, Rooney still has plenty left in the tank and will likely continue playing for England for the foreseeable future. That will give him a chance to add further goals to his current tally, stretching the gap between himself and Charlton. Whether he can reach the next target of 100 international goals is yet to be seen but on current form, you wouldn’t put it past him.