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

Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney
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3. European record

Wayne Rooney: 95 apps (39 goals); 1 goal every 2.44 games

Bobby Charlton: 45 apps (22 goals); 1 goal every 2.05 games

All we can say is that Charlton’s era was fraught with more uncertainty and the European Cup in its original format left teams with little margin for error

There are striking similarities between the two players when comparing goalscoring records on the continent: Rooney has played roughly twice as many games as Charlton, and scored twice as many goals. However, when you start dealing in fractions, it’s Charlton who edges it. Even with those lost minutes for substitutions, Sir Bobby remains ahead with a goal every 185 minutes compared to Rooney’s rate of one every 201 minutes.

Question marks arise regarding the respective standard of opposition – and these are difficult to answer. Who could honestly quantify the level of difficulty in beating the likes of Vorwarts Berlin, Hibernians of Malta, FK Sarajevo and Gornik Zabrze in the 1960s compared to the modern-day equivalents of AaB Aalborg, CFR Cluj, Otelul Galati and Zorya Luhansk?

Wayne Rooney

Rooney scored against Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League Final

All we can say is that Charlton’s era was fraught with more uncertainty and the European Cup in its original format left teams with little margin for error. Every round was a knockout and there was no video analysis enabling an entourage of backroom staff to conduct forensic analysis on the opposition, making attacking players aware of how best to unhinge their direct rival.

It should be pointed out that fewer than half Charlton’s 22 goals were actually scored in the European Cup, a quirk almost certainly due to circumstance. With United absent from continental competition for five seasons after the Munich air disaster, Charlton was coming into his prime when they returned in September 1963 – as he showed by scoring a dozen goals across two seasons playing in the Cup Winners’ Cup and Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.

However, any suggestion that he was a flat-track bully on the continent would be absurd. In April 1957, at just 19 years old, he scored in a semi-final against Real Madrid at Old Trafford – one of four European Cup semi-finals he would participate in. His crowning glory came more than a decade later with two goals in the 4-1 extra-time win over Benfica in 1968's final.

Rooney has also played in four Champions League semi-finals and emerged victorious from three, as well as winning the competition once when Chelsea were defeated on penalties in Moscow. His greatest contribution on the biggest stage – the equaliser in the 2011 final against Barcelona at Wembley – was ultimately eclipsed by a powerful second-half display from the Catalan giants.

Verdict: There’s only one winner here. On bare numbers alone Charlton’s superiority is only marginal, but from an anecdotal perspective his contribution is far more enthralling.