Gary Lineker believes the “under-appreciated” Wayne Rooney has proven himself one of the true “greats of English football” after the forward scored his 200th Premier League goal.
The 31-year-old recorded his second league goal of the season in his second domestic game for Everton since returning to the club from Manchester United earlier this summer.
He has again demonstrated he retains much of the ability critics felt he had lost while out of United’s team, and has already impressed to the extent he could earn a recall to the next England squad.
It is two years since he became the national team’s record goalscorer, having already surpassed Lineker, another of England’s finest strikers, and yet he continues to divide opinion.
Rooney in January also became United’s record scorer, and Lineker, incidentally once of Everton, said: “He’s been a great player for English football.
“He’d be (one of Britain’s) top 10 (ever). He’s had a marvellous career. He’s been slightly unfortunate that he’s been our only world-class player for quite a while after the Golden Generation disappeared.
“We went through a time of being bereft of world-class talent: it was just him. He’s gone to play in tournaments, sometimes not fully fit, sometimes fit, in a team that’s not really good enough, and he’s suffered a little bit from that.
“He probably is (under-appreciated). Those of us who remember his early career when he was phenomenal: well, he did it (at Euro 2004) in Portugal. When he got injured: we might have gone on to win that one if he hadn’t, we were looking so good.
“He’s not played in terribly strong England sides subsequently. But he’s scored more goals than anyone else for England, anyone else for Manchester United, and that in itself is a phenomenal achievement.”
The loss of Rooney’s pace had contributed much to that of his first-team place at United and squad place with England, but the intelligence showed so far in his return to Everton suggests he can excel without.
Lineker suspects he slowed down because of his exceptional work-rate, and the 56-year-old said: “If I had one criticism, it’s probably that he worked too hard and chased back too much, which has probably been one of the reasons why he’s gradually slowed down.
“But that was for the right reasons: he’s doing that because he’s so honest.
“He’s been a wonderful player in our game: everyone gets a bit under-appreciated because we are a judgemental society but it’s also very tribal, football. If he’s playing for Manchester United, automatically a lot of people would dislike him, so you’ve got to look a little bit above that.”