Sir Bobby Charlton believes Wayne Rooney will need to reach the heights of his promised world-class status for England to stand any chance in Brazil at the 2014 World Cup finals.
Yet Sir Bobby tips Rooney, 26, missing with injury from the current England squad, to not only emulate his 100 caps, but to finally break his record of 49 England goals – a total that Gary Lineker failed to match by one goal.
The key, though, might be how manager Roy Hodgson can unlock the goalscoring talents of Rooney for England in the same vein as that of his Manchester United performances.
Sir Bobby says in the Foreword to a new book, England Centurions: “Wayne is fine at Old Trafford and it is up to the England manager to find a way of bringing the best out of him at international level, and how best to handle him.
“He is handled very well at Manchester United, and I am sure it will evolve with England and if that is the case I feel sure that Wayne is the player most capable of breaking my record of 49 goals which has stood the test of time. Some came close. We all thought Michael Owen would do it, and it is a surprise that he didn’t. Gary Lineker, of course, came one short. A few have come close but faded away.
“If anyone is going to get the record, then it’s going to be Wayne Rooney. He’s good enough and he is still young enough. No matter how much I might like being the top goalscorer, I will be pleased when someone breaks it, particularly if it’s Wayne. I would congratulate them. It is certainly a record to treasure.”
Rooney however is out injured and for the opening World Cup qualifers, starting with a trip to Moldova on Friday, so Hodgson is thin on the ground for strikers. Yet England still remain favourites to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil but once they arrive in Rio, there is precious optimism.
Sir Bobby adds: “As for England’s future prospects, they haven’t got a lot of top quality players to choose from, and because of that you must feel it is going to be difficult to win things. You cannot see it happening in Brazil at the next World Cup for instance.
“Perhaps, if the tight group of players come together and stay together for a while and gel into a team, with the right manager, then perhaps it might happen. But I have to be honest and say it’s a way off.”