Why Sir Bobby Charlton is a True Footballing Legend
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The footballing world was rocked this weekend with the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton, who is a true legend of the beautiful game in every sense of the word. Sir Bobby will be remembered forever and by the time of his passing at the age of 86, he was cemented as one of football’s grandfathers.
Charlton’s Manchester United career concluded in 1973, three years after retiring from the England National Team in 1970. You have to be at least 50 years old to have witnessed Charlton playing professional football, and more like 60 to remember it.
Thanks to archive footage and the internet, though, we can still experience watching one of the best footballers of all time plying their trade. How good was Charlton, though? For those that haven’t researched Sir Bobby’s before, you might be surprised at just how good he was.
Why Sir Bobby Charlton is a True Footballing Legend
Sir Bobby Charlton racked up over 750 appearances for Manchester United between 1956 and 1973, and in that time, he scored 249 goals for United. Both were club records by the time of his retirement, with the latter standing until 2017, when Wayne Rooney surpassed it.
Rooney did that in significantly less appearances, but Charlton wasn’t a striker, he wasn’t even an attacker for the majority of his appearances. In the modern game, Charlton could be described as an attacking midfielder or a box-to-box midfielder. He dominated the middle of the park and wreaked havoc on defences by popping up with powerful shots from outside the penalty area.
He was a goalscoring midfielder in every sense of the word. A comparable modern player would be Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard, but Charlton was even more of a complete player than his aforementioned compatriots.
It’s no coincidence that United were relegated the season following Charlton’s first retirement from professional football. That’s still the last time that the Red Devils played outside the English top flight and it took until Sir Alex Ferguson’s appointment for the good times to come back to Old Trafford.
Charlton was a true captain, as he led Man United to their first European Cup in 1968, the first time an English side won the competition. His other playing honours include three First Division titles and the FA Cup.
Charlton was just as prolific for England
It’s perhaps Charlton’s achievements with England that are his most impressive, though. Charlton was part of the England side that won the 1966 FIFA World Cup, which to this day is the only major honour for the men’s Three Lions side. Charlton was instrumental in that side, just like he was for his club.
Charlton scored 49 goals for his national side in just over 100 caps. That’s a goalscoring record that stood until Wayne Rooney broke it in 2015 and Rooney would retire on 53. The only player to have significantly surpassed this record is Harry Kane, who, at the time of writing, is currently on 61.
When you think of the calibre of England strikers that have come since Charlton and how Sir Bobby still stands above them, it helps put into perspective how good he was. Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Michael Owen, all never matched Charlton’s 49 goals.
Lampard is England’s second-highest goalscorer from midfield and he only got 29 during his time with the Three Lions.
Charlton is also one of only nine players in history to have won the FIFA World Cup, European Cup/ UEFA Champions League and the Ballon d’Or. When you think about some of the players that haven’t achieved this, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Johnan Cruyff, Ronaldo Nazario, that is no mean feat by anybody’s standards.
In terms of these achievements, Charlton is right up there with the likes of Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Ronaldinho.
Individually and as an integral member of England and Manchester United, Charlton is one of the best of all time.
The Grandfather of English football
In the intro, I said that Charlton is one of football’s grandfathers, and I meant that in the nicest possible way. Charlton was a figurehead that commanded the utmost respect at the top of English football. Not unlike what Pele was to Brazilian football before he passed, Charlton was the unofficial King of English football. If you want to be in the conversation for the GOAT of English football, you have to come close to Charlton’s achievements to even stand a chance.
Charlton was one of the few surviving links to that great English side of 1966, with Sir Geoff Hurst now being the sole 66 player left. Charlton was also the last “Busby Babe” who survived the Munich Air Disaster of 1958.
Football is a game where rivalry and competition can often cloud our judgement of players. You might respect the ability of the opposition’s players, but when they contest your side, they are the ultimate enemy for 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon.
Charlton transcened that rivalry, with even the most die-hard Manchester City and Liverpool fans able to put aside their differences with Manchester United when it comes to Sir Bobby. This was perhaps best illustrated when Charlton won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Charlton was given a standing ovation the likes of which we haven’t seen at the ceremony before or after and was visibly moved when he was presented the award by his brother, Jack.
Rest in Peace, Sir Bobby, you were a true gentleman off the pitch and a fantastic player on it and will remain a footballing legend forever.