By William ‘Bantu’ Irubor
It was an emphatic way to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record, a perfect free kick watched on a billion television screens, a wonderful strike that sent a ripple of applause across the world, but it will do little to silence questions about Wayne Rooney’s future at Manchester United.
Rooney deserved this moment. The statistics prove he is a “once in a generation footballer” who has broken both Charlton’s international and club records, both of which had stood for more than 40 years.
He has been a brilliant footballer, the most complete English centre forward since Alan Shearer, who has won everything there is to win in club football at United, but does he stay there, a useful player, a leader and a role model, but not one who is first choice up front? Or does he listen to offers from elsewhere, another club at home or abroad, who can offer him regular football and the sort of kingpin status he once enjoyed at United?
Players like Rooney do not come around very often, yet there has been a feeling for some time that his time has come and gone at United. His peak years are behind him, that the man-boy who stunned the Premier League at Everton when he made his debut at 16 is now fading towards retirement.
At the age of 31, he is not the same player who dominated the Premier League and England squad for more than a decade, a brutal truth exposed by the fact his point-rescuing wonder strike against Stoke City was only his second Premier League goal of the season and only his fifth in all competitions this season.
He cannot get into United’s first choice XI, replaced by a player four years older than him in Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Yet, Rooney remains Jose Mourinho’s trusted and appreciated captain at United and although the Portuguese declared he would never be so arrogant as to tell a player of that stature what he should do with the rest of his playing career, he would like him to stay.
With interest bound to come from America and China, offers of lucrative contracts to play in easier competitions, where his deteriorating powers will still be enough for him to shine, Rooney has a decision to make.
Indeed, when asked what he still had to achieve at United, Rooney’s reply, that he wanted his place back in the team, was, perhaps, telling. He wants to play, not sit on the bench, yet with United’s pursuit of Antoine Griezmann set to intensify, the competition could well become even more severe.
Sir Bobby Charlton says Wayne Rooney is “a true great for club and country” after the striker broke his Manchester United all-time goalscoring record.
Rooney’s injury-time equaliser at Stoke on Saturday was his 250th for United, breaking Charlton’s 44-year-old record.
“I would be lying to say that I’m not disappointed to have lost the record,” Charlton, 79, told the United website.
“However, I can honestly say that I’m delighted for Wayne. He deserves his place in the history books.”
He continued: “He is a true great for club and country, and it is fitting that he is now the highest goalscorer for both United and England.
“It has been great to watch him every week since his arrival at Old Trafford in 2004; he set the tone with a wonderful hat-trick on his debut and he has thrilled us all in the years since, going on to enjoy a hugely successful career.
“Now he’s the man to beat, and I can’t see anybody doing that for a long, long time.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, who managed United from 1986 to 2013 and brought Rooney to the club in August 2004 from Everton, said he would like to congratulation Wayne Rooney hugely on reaching this milestone.
“Wayne thoroughly deserves his place in the history books of this great club and I am sure that he will go on to score many more goals.”
Current United boss Jose Mourinho said: “It is the record of the biggest club in England and one of the biggest in the world.
“Before him the record belonged to a legend of English football. Now Wayne becomes a legend of Manchester United.”
Stoke boss Mark Hughes, who had two spells as a striker with United said: “It is an outstanding record and won’t be surpassed. It has taken 40-odd years for Sir Bobby’s record to be broken which shows how high a mark it was.”
Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who had urged the media not to “kill” Rooney when he left as national boss in 2006, called him a great player.
“He’s still a fantastic player. He’s clever and can play in different positions. He can play as striker, second striker, winger, midfielder,” said the Swede.
Current England boss Gareth Southgate told the Football Association official website: “When you look at whose record he has broken and the way Sir Bobby is revered in this country and by his club, it shows you what an achievement it is.
Rooney, 31, said he was honoured to break the record.
“I am very proud,” he said. “It is not something I expected when I joined. I am proud and I hope there is more to come.
“The players who have played for this club have been world class. I am proud to play for this club and to be all-time goalscorer is a huge honour.”
“I just have to keep going,” said Rooney. “Obviously, I’ve been a bit in and out of the team this season, so my main priority now is to fight for my place in the starting line-up…”
But his team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic was quick to hit out of Rooney’s many critics after the striker’s incredible feat, saying he is not fully appreciated on these shores.
“It’s a big thing you know – many great players have been here at this club and his name is right up on top,” said Ibrahimovic. “I’m very proud to have been on the same field as him when he did it [broke the record] and hopefully he can continue to do what he’s doing.
Here is a list of United’s Top 10 goal scorers of all time: