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

Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney
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2. Domestic cup record

Wayne Rooney: 55 apps (26 goals); 1 goal every 2.12 games

Bobby Charlton: 102 apps (26 goals); 1 goal every 3.92 games

Rooney’s big moments in the League Cup probably put him ahead of Charlton overall

The bare numbers fall in Rooney’s favour but they don’t tell the whole story of two contrasting careers in domestic knockout competition. Both men lost two FA Cup finals in their first three seasons as United players and both have lifted the trophy once, with Rooney finally ending his wait with last season’s extra-time success over Crystal Palace.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney finally got his hands on the FA Cup trophy earlier this year

However, an FA Cup highlights reel involving Charlton’s United would definitely be the better watch. The 79-year-old reached the semi-finals in five consecutive seasons between 1962 and 1966 (winning the trophy in 1963); in those days FA Cup semis were huge occasions, often turning into marathon affairs. Charlton played in a dozen semi-final matches (scoring twice) and, replays aside, was victorious in three out of eight.

Rooney, by contrast, has played in only five and never scored in either a semi or a final. However, the overall complexion changes dramatically when the League Cup is brought into the equation: Rooney’s big moments in that competition probably put him ahead of Charlton overall.

The former Everton youngster was still only 20 when he announced his arrival as the man for big occasions with a two-goal salvo in United’s 4-0 Carling Cup success over Wigan at the Millennium Stadium in 2006. Three years later, he lifted the three-handled pot again following a penalty shootout success over Tottenham.

Bobby Charlton

The League Cup wasn't as significant in Charlton's era

But his biggest contribution to United’s knockout exploits over the past 12 years undoubtedly came the following season, when he scored decisive goals in both the semi-final and final – the former providing United fans with a more iconic image than the latter, arriving as it did on the stroke of 90 minutes at the Stretford End against Manchester City.

During Charlton’s time, the League Cup was still in its infancy and didn’t quite carry the same prestige as it would later do in the 1970s and 1980s. United’s first proper run in the tournament didn’t arrive until 1969/70 when they were beaten in the semi-final by City. Likewise, the return leg was staged at Old Trafford with the Sky Blues holding a 2-1 advantage, but Charlton & Co. could only manage a 2-2 draw in response.

Verdict: For all United’s prominence in the FA Cup throughout the 1960s, Charlton himself seldom made a decisive intervention in those latter stages, which partly explains why the Red Devils were so often nearly men. Rooney’s place in League Cup history is cemented and essentially tips the balance, backing up his superior goalscoring record.

Next: Continental conquerings