By STEVEN HOWARD
WAYNE ROONEY requires another 61 goals to surpass Bobby Charlton’s league tally at Manchester United.
And just another 17 to eclipse Charlton’s standing as England’s leading marksman.
Few doubt that he will achieve both targets.
And yet there is still something strangely disappointing and unrequited about his overall career for both club and country.
The way he rarely produces on the big occasion.
When he came bursting through against Croatia in the summer of 2004 in Portugal, we thought a real star had been born.
But since then? Depressingly little for England.
Of course, there have been many moments for United — with 139 league goals in 245 appearances, how could there not have been?
But when it has come to grasping the nettle on the biggest stage of all, putting down his marker as a real world-class performer, it has never happened.
Look at the two Champions League finals against Barcelona.
And it was another low-key display against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Wednesday. On the same night, he paled in comparison alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, as the former United star took his tally to an astonishing 183 goals in 180 appearances for the Spanish giants.
Rooney has 27 goals in 71 Champions League games. In the Madrid team alone, Ronaldo has 45 in 87 and Karim Benzema 29 in 49.
Even Kaka, the barely used Brazilian midfielder, has 28 in 77.
And yet there is a defence to muster for Rooney in games like the one we saw on Wednesday.
For it was one in which Rooney sacrificed any personal glory for the team.
This apparent lack of ego is one of his finer points.
With Shinji Kagawa, wisely or unwisely, given the immediate job behind Robin van Persie (21 in 52), Rooney was restricted to a right-sided midfield role with much of the emphasis on defence and disrupting the Madrid counter-attacking flow.
No, he didn’t have the greatest game. Again.
But it was all for the better cause of the team. And one increasingly foisted on him by Ferguson, without the real Roy Keane or Wesley Sneijder big-hitter, constantly trying to patch up midfield.
Tracking back and helping out the men behind was anathema for goalscorers like Michael Owen and Gary Lineker. And Thierry Henry. Even the great Jimmy Greaves.
Their game was simply — and, yes, selfishly — about goals.
Other forwards have had no hesitation in getting their hands dirty. Ian Rush was famously known as Liverpool’s first line of defence. And look at the effort Van Persie put in against Madrid.
The word going round journalistic circles after the game was that Rooney had become Ferguson’s workhorse.
And, credit to him, hard work is something Rooney has never shied away from.
But it does make you think that his relationship with his manager might have plateaued out again.
And that, perhaps, it might have been better for him had he gone to Manchester City a few seasons ago, a transfer he was tantilisingly — for City fans anyway — close to.
You do wonder whether, at 27, his best times are already behind him. And that a move now would rekindle the flame.
So much was expected of Rooney because he really looked as if he would be THE one.
Yet he has never made the step up from being a prolific Premier League performer to a true, international star.
When the second leg with Madrid at Old Trafford is upon us on March 5, we will once again be looking for the defining moment in his career when he does finally make that leap.
And so it goes on.