EARN YOUR LEGACY, ROON
He will surely overtake Charlton in the England scoring charts, but not in stature
SAN MARINO v ENGLAND
(Tomorrow, 12am, San Marino Stadium, Serravalle)
Wayne Rooney is a victim of circumstance.
His career spanned an era when honesty in the English Premier League was less important than hype.
As he once ruled in the greatest league in the world, he was labelled as one of the greatest in the world.
Unfortunately, he wasn't. He was consistently very good, occasionally sublime and even reached for immortality with the odd bicycle kick.
But he never quite got there.
He hung around the exclusive club of legends for a while, peeking through the crowd to marvel at Charlton and Moore among his countrymen, and Messi and Ronaldo among his contemporaries. But there was no room at the pantheon.
If the 29-year-old bags a brace against cannon fodder San Marino tomorrow morning (Singapore time) in England's Euro 2016 Group E qualifier, he overtakes Sir Bobby Charlton in the scoring charts, but not in stature.
Rooney has 48 goals from 105 England appearances. Charlton reached 49 in 106 from midfield, playing behind two strikers in Sir Alf Ramsey's rigid 4-4-2 formation.
But it's less about position than it is pedigree. Charlton began and ended his career in midfield, but sustained a level of performance that defied conventional wisdom in the 1970s. Charlton looked 50, but tore up the field like a teenager.
For Manchester United this season, and at the last World Cup for England, Rooney looked like a 50-year-old man and often played like one.
In Brazil, he betrayed a striker haunted by his professional mortality. The brutish, body strength that powered a boy through Arsenal's defence before thumping a goal past David Seaman when he was just 16 now drains the man.
He's winding down like an old grandfather clock, his pride drowning out the sound of time ticking against him.
There's even a tragicomic aspect to Rooney's career, which seems preposterous in light of his success and evokes memories of the famous George Best anecdote.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Apart from a Champions League triumph in 2008, a cabinet filled with Premier League medals and silver baubles and a salary of £300,000 ($650,000) a week, where did it all go wrong, Rooney?
In many ways, nothing did.
He is in the twilight of a career beyond the dreams of most professional footballers, let alone a kid from a Liverpool council estate.
But it was that kid, that glorious, irrepressible kid, who'll leave a faint asterisk on Rooney's resume.
That kid really could do everything. His overhead kick for Everton's Under-9s against Manchester United caused the coaching staff on both sides to applaud.
It was Messi-like, a child prodigy moment so rare in English football.
An England call-up was considered a formality when Rooney was still only 16, when Arsene Wenger called him the greatest young English talent he had ever seen.
And Euro 2004 proved it. He was the Player of the Tournament. He was on the conveyor belt to greatness. All he had to do was hold on.
But there were too many slip-ups along the way. Some were his fault. Others were out of his hands.
At his youthful peak, he often played second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo. When his powers waned, he wasn't so much reconfigured as he was relegated behind Robin van Persie.
In 11 seasons at Old Trafford, Rooney surpassed the 20-goal mark only three times. In scoring terms, he kowtows before his contemporaries.
Ronaldo and Messi have reached comic-book figures in their careers. Ronaldo scored more than 50 club goals in each of the last five seasons. Messi managed more than 40 per season, across six years.
Of course, the feats of foreigners do not affect a footballer's domestic standing, but Rooney has also faltered in every international tournament since Euro 2004.
Injuries curtailed his influence initially, but his contribution in Brazil, at a time when the then 28-year-old should've been at his peak, was negligible.
His international goals come in feast and famine cycles. He tears into continental minnows in the qualifying stages, but generally goes missing when it matters.
Of course, Rooney usually ploughed a lonely furrow for his country. He cannot be blamed for graduating from the Lleyton Hewitt/Larry Holmes School of Sporting Excellence. He's often been the biggest fish in a small talent pool.
The consistent lack of competition in his position, coupled with the EPL's insufferable inability to overhype its participants, placed Rooney on an unfair pedestal.
He constantly fell short of the inflated expectations of others.
The lines between hype and reality blurred. On computer game covers, he was England's great white hope. On a pitch, he was a very good footballer, one of the best, but not quite one of the greats.
Still, Rooney will surely overtake Charlton and become England's record goalscorer before the Euro 2016 Finals begin.
The accolade will be thoroughly deserved. But the unstoppable kid who smashed the ball past Seaman might have achieved so much more.