Sir Bobby Charlton: Where does he rank among England’s greatest footballers?
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Sir Bobby Charlton: Where does he rank among England’s greatest footballers?

The sad passing of Sir Bobby Charlton at the age of 86 has prompted many to proclaim him as the greatest English footballer in history.

As a winner of the World Cup, European Cup and Ballon d’Or – all after surviving the 1958 Munich air disaster – he certainly has a strong case but how does the Manchester United legend compare with other England greats?

We have looked back at Charlton’s career to see where his achievements rank among England’s greatest footballers.

Who are England’s top scorers?

Charlton is England’s third-highest scorer with 49 goals in 106 caps, behind Wayne Rooney (53 in 120) and Harry Kane (61 in 87).

Holder of the outright record for more than 47 years, Charlton surpassed Jimmy Greaves’ tally (44) with a trademark goal from outside the box during a 3-1 win over Sweden at Wembley in May 1968.

In a typical display of class, he was also present when Rooney became the first England player to reach 50 goals in September 2015, with Kane having since raised the benchmark beyond 60.

England’s greatest footballersHaving spent most of his career as an attacking midfielder, Charlton is the only non-striker among England’s top nine scorers.

The 29-goal Frank Lampard is his nearest challenger among players deployed behind the forward line, ahead of David Platt (27), Bryan Robson (26) and Steven Gerrard (21).

Charlton scored 27 goals in competitive internationals and 22 in friendlies, with 41 of his strikes coming in England wins.

He was especially effective at Wembley – the scene of his World Cup triumph – having scored in his first five appearances there on the way to racking up 23 goals in total, a record that stood until Kane netted a brace against Italy in October to take him to 24 Wembley goals.

Which players have proved to be indispensable?

Charlton was England’s talisman for more than a decade between his debut in a 4-0 win over Scotland in 1958 and his final international appearance at the 1970 World Cup.

He played in 106 of England’s 131 games during that period (81 per cent), with all but one of his caps earned as a member of the starting line-up.

England’s greatest footballersAmong players with at least 50 England appearances, only four – Billy Wright (97 per cent), Des Walker (92 per cent), Sir Bobby Moore (90 per cent) and David Platt (82 per cent) – played in a higher percentage of games than Charlton over the course of their careers.

Legendary centre-back Wright became the first footballer to reach 100 international caps while playing in 105 of England’s 108 matches between the end of the second World War and May 1959.

Who holds the England record for World Cup appearances?

As a key member of England’s victorious squad in 1966, Charlton will be forever associated with the World Cup.

He and Moore both made 14 appearances across three World Cups between 1962 and 1970, the joint most by outfield players alongside Terry Butcher and Ashley Cole.

Goalkeeper Peter Shilton is the only man to have featured more times for England on the world’s biggest stage, with 17 appearances between 1982 and 1990.

England’s greatest footballers

Largely due to the timing of his career, Charlton played only two games in the European Championships, which was still in its infancy in the 1960s and 70s.

His appearances came in the 1968 tournament – England’s sole campaign until 1980 – in which they lost a semi-final to Yugoslavia before winning a third-place play-off against the Soviet Union.

Which players have won the World Cup and the Champions League?

Charlton is one of only three English players to have won the biggest prizes in both club and international football.

After lifting the World Cup in 1966, he went on to win the 1968 European Cup with Manchester United, scoring twice in a 4-1 victory over Benfica in the final.

England and Manchester United team-mate Nobby Stiles lined up alongside Charlton in both competitions while Liverpool’s Ian Callaghan won back-to-back European Cups in 1977 and 1978 – more than a decade after being part of the World Cup-winning squad.

England’s greatest footballers

A further 83 players from six other nations have completed the World Cup-Champions League double, with Julian Alvarez most recently achieving the feat with Argentina and Manchester City.

Alvarez became the 10th player to win both competitions in the same season, following in the footsteps of Sepp Maier, Paul Breitner, Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Uli Hoeness (Bayern Munich and West Germany) in 1974, Christian Karembeu (Real Madrid and France) in 1998, Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid and Brazil) in 2002, and Raphael Varane (Real Madrid and France) in 2018.

Which players have gained global recognition?

Charlton’s exploits in the period between winning the World Cup and the European Cup saw him finish in the top three of the Ballon d’Or standings in successive years between 1966 and 1968.

He was voted as the best player in the world in 1966 before finishing as runner-up in 1967 and 1968, behind Florian Albert and George Best respectively.

Kevin Keegan is the only other English player to place in three separate years, with the former Liverpool winger finishing as runner-up in 1977 before winning the award in 1978 and 1979 during his time at German club Hamburg.

England’s greatest footballers

Sir Stanley Matthews and Michael Owen also won the Ballon d’Or in 1956 and 2001 respectively but neither managed to finish in the top three in any other year.

Billy Wright (1957), Sir Bobby Moore (1970), Gary Lineker (1986), David Beckham (1999) and Frank Lampard (2005) all finished as runner-up on a single occasion while Johnny Haynes (1961), Jimmy Greaves (1963), Alan Shearer (1996) and Steven Gerrard (2005) each picked up a third-place award.

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