Rooney vs Charlton: Whose Manchester United scoring record is better?

Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney
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1. League record

Wayne Rooney: 380 apps (179 goals); 1 goal every 2.12 games

Bobby Charlton: 606 apps (199 goals); 1 goal every 3.05 games

Charlton played nearly 24,000 more league minutes than Rooney, during which time we might say he bagged (based on his average) 86 goals

Rooney might be on the brink of breaking the all-time record but he remains a monster season short of beating Sir Bobby’s league record. The deficit currently stands at 20 but Charlton, it should be pointed out, had much longer to accumulate his tally.

If destiny were to grant Rooney another four years at Old Trafford – thereby matching Charlton’s 17 campaigns – then he would require an average of only five goals per season to draw level. The respective goal ratios tell the story: Rooney finds the net once every 2.12 games, Charlton once every 3.05 games. And the numbers only lean more heavily towards Rooney when the two players are judged on minutes played.

Not only did Charlton play an extra 226 league matches, but he completed 90 minutes in virtually all of them. The substitute rule only came into play midway through his United career (1965/66) and Charlton was very rarely hooked in any case, while he started on the bench only twice.

Rooney, by contrast, has started as a substitute 35 times and been withdrawn on 74 occasions, not to mention his two red cards. All of which means, in total, Charlton played nearly 24,000 more league minutes than Rooney, during which time we might say he bagged (based on his average) around 86 of his goals. Or from Rooney’s perspective, given the extra minutes, he might be expected to add another 138 to his total.

More to the point, Charlton also played in an era when defences weren’t nearly as disciplined and, statistically, goals were much easier to come by. During the first five years of his career (1956-1961), goals in the old First Division would be scored at a rate of 3.5 per game, compared to just 2.75 in the modern era.

Bobby Charlton

Charlton scored 199 league goals during his time at United

Only in Charlton’s last five seasons at Old Trafford (1968-1973) did the standard rate drop below three goals per game as the influence of Catenaccio began to permeate the English game. And for a World Cup winner in his 30s, the shift was one he struggled to adapt to.

To put it another way, consider that Rooney’s overall tally of 179 represents 19 per cent of all the league goals United have scored since September 2004, whereas Charlton’s haul of 199 was only 14 per cent of his team's total between October 1956 and May 1973.

Verdict: In pure statistical terms, it’s clear cut  Rooney is definitely the more prolific.