Rooney’s joy as he equals Charlton’s record haul
It was not the sort of finish that would, ordinarily, live long in the memory or rank highly in Wayne Rooney’s rich back catalogue but few will have carried such meaning for the Manchester United captain.
Rising to meet Juan Mata’s cross in the seventh minute of this one-sided FA Cup tie, Rooney stuck out his right leg and watched the ball bounce off his knee, past Ali Habsi, the Reading goalkeeper, and, in the process, draw the England forward level with Sir Bobby Charlton’s record of 249 goals for United. From his seat in the Old Trafford directors’ box, blinking through his glasses under his dark, brimmed hat, Charlton, now 79, clapped enthusiastically as the significance of the goal was registered over the PA system.
“It’s a proud moment, especially to do it at such a massive club like Manchester United,” Rooney said afterwards. “I’m hugely honoured to be able to play for this football club and to be up there in terms of goals with Sir Bobby is a really proud moment for me. Hopefully I’ll be out there on my own soon but I’ll enjoy today.”
Rooney’s relationship with United has not always been the easiest. He has twice threatened to leave the club and might not have been around to break the record had Sir Alex Ferguson stayed on as manager any longer.
But Ferguson was one of those up on his feet applauding yesterday, and while Rooney might be the first to acknowledge that he has been limping towards the landmark – this, after all, was only his fourth goal of the campaign – the scale of his achievement is huge. Some of the greats of world football have adorned the United shirt in the 43 years since Charlton left the club and have not got close to his goals haul. Rooney needed 543 games spread over 12½ years to match it, although Jose Mourinho said the “best day will be the day he scores the next goal”.
“It’s just a question of when,” the United manager added. “It’s amazing because everybody knows who Sir Bobby is and what he means for the history of the club and the history of English football and for Wayne to score the same number of goals for Manchester United is fantastic.” Rooney’s historic goal, and United’s comprehensive dismantling of the Reading side, certainly ensured Jaap Stam’s first competitive return to Old Trafford since his departure in 2001 was overshadowed. Stam was given a rapturous reception but, given his team’s lamentable defending, culminating in a farcical mistake by AlHabsi for Marcus Rashford’s second goal and United’s fourth, the Dutchman must have wished he was invisible at times.
United were dominant from start to finish and should have scored several more from their 27 attempts as they claimed an eighth successive win for the first time since September 2009, the perfect warm-up ahead of the first leg of their League Cup semi-final against Hull City on Tuesday.
Rooney stole the headlines but Anthony Martial and Rashford were Reading’s tormentors-in-chief, with Mata and Michael Carrick proving a very able support cast. Reading were petrified every time Martial got the ball, continually backing off and paying the price.
The Frenchman surged inside early on and found Mata, whose cross was turned in with that effective piece of improvisation from Rooney. And eight minutes later, Martial tore a hole through the Reading team, driving forward and then slotting into the bottom corner from 10 yards with not so much as a snip at his heels.
This was Rashford’s first start since Nov 27 and, at first, he looked ring-rusty in front of goal, finding the side-netting with one opportunity and then taking a touch from Rooney’s exquisite through ball when he should have shot first time. But his running and movement were excellent and he eventually got his reward with two goals in quick succession in the final 15 minutes.
The defending for both goals will have left Stam flummoxed, though. For United’s third, Liam Moore – who had spurned Reading’s one opening in the first half – might have done better trying to cut out Carrick’s searching pass, leaving Rashford free to beat Al-Habsi. And then Al-Habsi got himself in a dreadful mess from Moore’s back pass, trying to clear with his left boot but inadvertently kicking the ball with his right first as Rashford stole in to score on the goalline.
Rooney’s shirt would certainly fetch something considerable at auction and although footage doing the rounds on social media appeared to show George Evans, the Reading and former Manchester City midfielder, passing on the chance to swap jerseys with the United captain at the final whistle, Evans later posted a picture of the shirt on Twitter clarifying he did eventually take up the man of the moment’s offer.