If the outpouring of praise and goodwill that followed Wayne Rooney breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s Manchester United goal-scoring record on Saturday felt unfamiliar it’s probably because it had been a long time since he was talked about in such glowing terms.
It was almost as if the goal woke people up to what he has achieved.
It has become fashionable to criticise Rooney, although that’s not to say his contribution hasn’t declined in the last year or two.
Lots of people have been disappointed to see him lose the explosive, dynamic bursts that typified the first decade of his career, myself included.
He has also suffered from being a lightning rod for England’s failures at major tournaments, especially recently, when he has been captain, and despite the fact that he has also broken international scoring records.
It’s a little unfair, not least because he might have been more effective himself if the team had played at the level they are capable of.
Great goals and crucial goals
Within the game, however, there is a realisation that Rooney’s achievements have been extraordinary. Ask any player or manager and they will tell you how highly they rate him.
You can’t deny his contribution or how dangerous he was for so long in his best position, just off the centre-forward. He scored great goals as well as crucial goals.
They recognise that Rooney’s style was not sustainable. It’s not unique to him: Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler also dropped off dramatically after a certain point.
The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Ryan Giggs, who have enjoyed greater longevity, have different styles and different physical qualities which help them.
Last of his kind
Breaking United’s scoring record is phenomenal and – in the modern game, where players move around more – I think it’s unlikely to be beaten. It’ll certainly be a long time before it is threatened.
In many ways Rooney is the last of his kind: a street footballer in an age when kids are increasingly schooled at football academies from the age of six.
His declining output has undoubtedly taken the shine off that 250th United goal, a superb injury-time free-kick to claim a point at Stoke.
If he had reached that milestone while his game was still on fire there would be wider acknowledgement that we are celebrating one of the greatest ever.
Follow Beckham's lead
He now faces a decision about how to finish his career. His game time only looks likely to dwindle if he stays at United, so now he has claimed the record I think he should give serious thought to moving to China at the end of the season.
David Beckham did something similar when he joined LA Galaxy in the twilight of his playing days, and I think this would be a good time to move.
It’s not only about money. Rooney is a global brand and he has to consider that. Staying in England and, for instance, rejoining Everton will just diminish that.
He has an opportunity to expand his brand by riding the wave of admiration and continuing to play in China, if there are indeed offers.
He has earned it and should make the most of it.