Wayne Rooney vs Bobby Charlton: who's got the best England scoring record?
Wayne Rooney: 41 (14); 1 goal every 2.93 games
Bobby Charlton: 71 (32); 1 goal every 2.21 games
It's in friendlies that Charlton really made hay, scoring nearly 75% of his haul between 1958 and 1970. However, assessing this tally through playing minutes is more interesting than looking at caps earned.
Why? Well, Charlton certainly played far more friendlies than Rooney has so far. Working on a rough average of five friendlies per year, to feature in as many as Sir Bobby, Rooney would have to keep going until Qatar 2022 – not unfeasible given his tactical flexibility, but the Scouse would by then be a 37-year-old warhorse (and quite possibly not be the top priority pick for friendlies).
Furthermore, Charlton also played 90 minutes on a regular basis (substitutions were far more limited back then, of course) and was only substituted during the twilight of his career.
Rooney, meanwhile, in an era of free substitutions (as popularised by Sven-Goran Eriksson), has played 2783 minutes of a potential 3600 (77.3% of the matches he has featured in), give or take some time added on. That's a whopping 9.1 matches' worth of missed time, making a case that his goals actually took place in 30.9 matches rather than 39 (so a goal every 2.2 games, then).
Meanwhile, Charlton played 6330 minutes of a potential 6390 (99%), which explains his far superior goal return. It could also be argued that a large percentage of his tally lacked the importance of goals scored in qualifiers. Certainly, there were hat-tricks in drubbings of USA (8-1, 1959), Mexico (8-0, 1961), and Switzerland (8-1, 1963).
Still, let's be fair: a number of friendlies in the 1960s and 1970s were played in the British Home Championship, a tournament comprising of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, where matches were fiercely contested and rumbled with old school blood 'n' thunder. In those meetings, Charlton scored 10 times in 20 showings, another impressive return.
Interestingly, Rooney has yet to score a hat-trick in an England shirt, but that's probably down to the fact that there are no easy fixtures in international football these days, right? Right?
VERDICT: A tricky call, so we'll say evens. Sure, Charlton has a superior goals-to-game ratio, but he played a full 90 minutes in nearly every match. He also became a flat-track bully in games against inferior opposition. Interestingly, during Rooney's career, England's biggest friendly win was a 6-0 destruction of Jamaica in a warm-up game to the 2006 World Cup, though he didn't feature because of injury.
Meanwhile, friendly matches are rarely one-sided affairs these days; poor teams do not put bums on stadium seats. Even ahead of the tougher friendlies pre-Euro 2016 (and subsequent Nations League), England have recently played games against World Cup teams including Ecuador, Honduras, Germany, Chile and Brazil with no 8-0 or 10-1 scorelines in view.