It took 84 minutes and the chance to score from a penalty, but the Manchester United man passed Sir Bobby Charlton’s record against Switzerland at Wembley Stadium
It was as emphatic a penalty as you are likely to see. In the 84th minute of his 107th appearance for England, Wayne Rooney made history.They already led 1-0 thanks to substitute Harry Kane’s superbly taken goal midway through the second half, but the 75,751 fans at Wembley had come to see Rooney net his record-breaking 50th goal for the Three Lions.
And when Raheem Sterling went down easily under the challenge of Granit Xhaka, the stage was set. Rooney hammered the ball high into the net from 12 yards, and Sir Bobby Charlton’s record had gone.
Twelve years on from his debut as a child prodigy, Rooney has now set a mark that is likely to last for some time. It took 45 years for Charlton’s 49-goal mark to fall, and by the time the Manchester United skipper is done he may well have set a figure that is practically insurmountable.
Rooney could have been a history-maker much earlier in the night. His first sight of goal came 17 minutes in when he found space on the left of the box and slid the ball across Yann Sommer but saw his effort glide narrowly wide of the far post.
After a couple of half-chances from headers he then stung the palms of the Swiss keeper with an explosive first-time shot early in the second half. It looked like he would have to wait another month to grab that elusive 50th goal, and when Kane grabbed the opener soon after being introduced in the second half it seemed likely not to matter in the context of the result.
But Rooney’s penalty gave England the cushion they needed to ride out the last few minutes with a little to spare against a dangerous Switzerland side.
There will always remain question marks over Rooney’s ability to rise to the big occasion. Since Euro 2004 he has netted only two goals in finals football. In terms of a lasting legacy beyond the numbers, he needs to provide a memorable performance or two in a tournament before he hangs up his boots.
Yet considering some of the fantastic goalscorers who have come and gone for England over the years, Rooney’s achievement cannot be downplayed. He will always be the first player to have reached a half-century of goals with the Three Lions on his chest, and nobody can ever take that away from him.
His job is not done, former England captain David Beckham has backed Rooney to go on scoring for his country for some years to come.
“He can continue for another five years,” Beckham told ITV Sport.
“I really hope he does because he’s such a talent. Everyone knows how much England means to him, so I believe he can play for another five years.
“I’m sure it’s up there with every trophy that he’s won because I know how much it means to Wayne to play for his country.
“And to reach the heights of this and be up there with the name of Sir Bobby Charlton means so much.
“You talk about records, you talk about scoring goals. For Wayne, it’s all about winning things and if you win something with England it wouldn’t get any better than that.”
That is the next challenge. Rooney will forever be ranked as one of England’s greatest ever players due to his goalscoring feats, but now he’ll want to lead his country to the kind of heights they haven’t experienced in half a century.
For now, he can revel in the personal acclaim that will rightly come his way.
Wayne Rooney is now an England legend.