Rooney deserves more credit
United great's record-equalling feat deserves greater respect
Wayne Rooney's perceived failings are actually our failings.
The Manchester United striker has spent the latter stages of his career constantly criticised for the inadequacies of his audience.
To borrow that JFK/Nixon analogy, when we saw David Beckham, we saw who we wanted to be.
When we see Rooney, we see who we really are: Ageing, balding and occasionally flawed.
So we sneer at the man in the mirror and mock Rooney instead. It's easier.
He became Manchester United's joint-record scorer on Saturday, reaching 249 goals with an improvised finish in a 4-0 win against Reading during an FA Cup third-round fixture.
But the tributes seemed more qualified than gushing.
As Rooney celebrates an astounding achievement that will never be surpassed in the transient modern game, he still carries that asterisk.
His backhanded compliments come with caveats: He's isn't the monstrous man-child he once was; he's a lost legend in search of a permanent position.
He should, according to a popular view, retire at the end of the season to retain his dignity.
Rooney is 31 and trying to sustain a career at the world's most famous football club. He seeks to do likewise with England, too. That's it.
Those are his perceived "crimes" against dignity.
At the same age, Eric Cantona was playing beach football.
Beckham was finalising a move to a country where Bob Bradley is considered a leading football coach and George Best was playing circus clown with Rodney Marsh at Fulham.
All three are revered at Old Trafford and understandably so. But the chances of Rooney enjoying a similar status when he retires are slim at best.
He's won everything worth winning at United. His next goal, his 250th, will leave him looking down on everyone else at the club, from Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law to Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
But will Rooney get a statue outside Old Trafford?
Will he be spoken of in the same reverential tones reserved for the Class of '92?
The odds are against it, despite the fact that Rooney maintained a level of consistency that eclipsed all of the Class of '92, with the obvious exceptions of Giggs and Scholes.
Some of the reasons are of Rooney's own making, of course. The transfer requests, the rows with Sir Alex Ferguson and the salary demands didn't help.
And slagging off fans, straight to the camera, doesn't typically endear a multi-millionaire to the masses either.
But Beckham engineered his move to Real Madrid and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard met with Chelsea's Jose Mourinho more than once, yet their reputations with their respective clubs are safe.
It's something else with Rooney, something uglier.
In 2002, he won the BBC's Young Sports Personality of the Year after an astounding first season with Everton and was mocked for a dodgy suit and a crooked tie. His monosyllabic answers were widely ridiculed.
Rooney's award was for a sterling campaign never seen from a kid before, but he was judged for being a 17-year-old from a council estate who didn't look like Beckham or sound like Benedict Cumberbatch.
His career has partially suffered from such insidious sniping ever since.
Best slept with as many housewives as he missed training sessions and is still considered a "lad", a top boy, a legend.
Rooney had a couple of beers in a hotel, outside a wedding reception, when he wasn't on England duty and was publicly skewered for his "loutish" behaviour, the whipping boy once more for the modern, uneducated footballer with more money than sense.
On and off the field, Rooney has always been judged more harshly than others. The double standards are as irritating as the widespread glee when he occasionally stumbles.
But that's his apparent problem. He's not an enigmatic Cantona, a rakish Best or a square-jawed Beckham.
He's a rough-spoken, council estate kid with a funny haircut who just wants to play elite football for as long as possible.
Rooney is really one of us. And no one likes to look in a mirror.