Wayne Rooney’s name is there in black and white now, imprinted in Manchester United’s record books as the club’s all-time leading goal scorer. And it is safe to assume he will stay there until Old Trafford’s foundations begin to crumble.
Since Sir Bobby Charlton scored the last of his 249 goals for United in a 2-0 victory at Southampton in March 1973, nobody has come close to erasing one of football’s most iconic figures from the top of the club’s scoring list.
Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes, Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy have all broken the 150 goals barrier in a United shirt, but until an 18-year-old Rooney came along after a £30 million transfer from Everton in August 2004, no one had even come close to hitting 200, never mind eclipsing Charlton’s tally.
The fact that Rooney has now become the first United player to score 250 times, having also broken Charlton’s 49-goal international record with England, underlines the impact he has made on the pitch.
And when you consider that his closest rival currently playing for the club is Juan Mata (33 career goals), followed by veteran midfielder Michael Carrick (24), it will require incredible consistency — and good fortune with injury — for 19-year-old Marcus Rashford (14) to surpass whatever record Rooney leaves behind when his United career finally comes to an end.
There is even the question of whether, in a modern era of footballers moving around more frequently than their predecessors, any player will remain at the club long enough to be able to break the record in the future?
Rooney would never have made it to Charlton’s record had he succeeded in one of his two highly publicised attempts to leave Old Trafford — many United supporters will not toast his achievement because of this.
It is those stand-offs with the club, in the autumn of 2010 and the summer of 2013, which have tarnished his reputation in the eyes of many fans. They will only greet his record with a shrug of the shoulders and sadness that Charlton, one of United’s true greats, has been overhauled by a player who pushed hard to leave not once, but twice.
Those episodes, both of which ended with Rooney signing a new contract, have overshadowed his contribution and impact as a player during his 12 years at United.
Many observers will insist that Rooney has failed to develop into the player he should have become and that he has never delivered a stand-out performance to define his United career. But Rooney has delivered, and the reality is that it may not be until he has vacated the stage that his detractors fully appreciate his contribution.
He has won five Premier League titles and the Champions League — he also played in two other European Cup finals as well as an FA Cup, two League Cups, four Community Shields and a Club World Cup.
Offer any United supporter the chance to sign an 18-year-old who would deliver all of the above over the next 12 years, and they would not even think twice before gratefully taking the opportunity.
The reason why Rooney’s contribution disappoints many is because they expected more. When he arrived from Everton, after bursting onto the scene with England at Euro 2004, the teenager was already the hottest property in world football, and he took expectations through the roof by scoring a hat trick in his debut against Fenerbahce.
Back then, Rooney was primed to become football’s next global superstar. Cristiano Ronaldo had arrived at United a year earlier, but he was firmly in Rooney’s shadow in his early years at Old Trafford.
Ronaldo’s eventual success came at a cost to Rooney, whose ability to play in numerous positions meant he was forced to sacrifice himself in order for the Portuguese winger to become United’s most potent weapon.
Sir Alex Ferguson built his team around Ronaldo on the way to winning the 2008 Champions League, and Rooney became a more rounded team player as a result. But, no longer the main man, he became a victim of his own versatility.
When Ronaldo left for a world-record transfer to Real Madrid in 2009, Rooney was handed the central striking role that he craved, but injuries took away the explosive qualities of his youth. He remained a potent goal scorer, enjoying his best return of 34 goals in both the 2009-10 and 2011-12 seasons, but he always left supporters wanting more.
Only once has he scored fewer than 15 goals in a season — 14 during Louis van Gaal’s first year in charge in 2014-15 — but the wheels are now beginning to turn more slowly. His record-breaking goal at Stoke was just his fifth of this campaign, which threatens to be his least productive in a United shirt.
The 31-year-old is suffering the inevitable effects of playing for 16 years at the top level and the wear and tear that comes with such a prolonged exposure to life at the sharp end. But at his very best, Rooney could do everything — score spectacular goals, tap-ins, headers, free kicks. He could lead the line with strength and awareness, and produce moments of great subtlety and vision.
When Manchester City tried to sign him in 2010, United and Ferguson pulled out all the stops to keep him because of his unique qualities. He may have played the system over the years and exploited his talent to make United pay above the going rate to keep him, but he has repaid that with his achievements on the pitch.
Rooney may never win a universal popularity contest among United fans, but they will miss him when he’s gone, and his goals record will stand for a long time.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_