Wayne Rooney vs Harry Kane: Who was better?

  • England have boasted Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane as some of their best-ever players
  • Both forwards have been Three Lions' record scorer
  • Assessing who was and is better
Two greats of the English game
Two greats of the English game / 90min

England have been truly blessed with world-class strikers over the years. If you had to pick the two most complete forwards to don a Three Lions shirt, you'd go with Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane.

From one record-scorer to the next, Rooney and Kane have been by far and away England's two best forwards in the 21st century.

There has been minor debate for some time over who is better out of the two, but Rooney himself decided to step aside during a recent appearance on The Overlap with former teammate Gary Neville.

"I think Harry Kane is an incredible player. The goals he's scored, the assists and as of the last few years, I would say he's England's greatest ever player," Rooney said, much to Neville's astonishment.

Is Rooney correct, though? Is he perhaps a little too modest? Let's take a look at their careers...

Goal record

Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane
Kane and Rooney have quite the goal collection between them / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

Oh boy, it's everyone's favourite Countdown tradition - the numbers round.

Obviously, the totals could look skewed given Kane's career isn't over and he could easily score another, say, 6000 goals before his career is over. You know, give or take.

But we'll deal with goals-per-game stats once we're done with totalities. For now, we're going to count every senior goal scored by Rooney and Kane at club and international level. Club friendlies are excluded, but international friendlies permitted. Youth international games do not count. You keeping up with all this so far?

Let's crunch those numbers.

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Rooney ended his career with 366 professional goals. Kane is still going at 404.

Even when adjusted to goals-per-game, Kane's ratio of 0.63 trumps Rooney's 0.41.

The clear winner here is Kane.

International record

Harry Kane, Phil Foden
Kane has captained England through a successful period in their history / Laurence Griffiths/GettyImages

Hey, this is a Euro 2024 article after all. And, well, there are a few reasons why Kane walks this comparison with ease.

For starters (and finishers, for most), Kane snatched Rooney's accolade as England's all-time leading scorer last year and hasn't looked back.

If you want to delve deeper, the 30-year-old has also captained England through an actual 'Golden Generation' as opposed to the letdowns of Rooney's day. The Three Lions are enduring the best spell in their history since winning the 1966 World Cup, and Kane has been at the forefront of that relative success.

All-round game

Wayne Rooney, Micah Richards
Rooney had it all / Jamie McDonald/GettyImages

Ooh baby, the first contentious category.

Kane is known nowadays as perhaps the world's best all-round number nine. He can act as a target man, a poacher, drop deep to spread play and hit them from distance himself.

In a way, there are shades of Rooney in Kane's game, but not an evolution.

In the 2000s, Rooney was widely seen as one of the world's best technical footballers. He was a number nine and a number ten all in one. He had the best touch and purest grace despite his rugged edge. He even had his own TV show - Wayne Rooney's Street Striker - because he was just that good.

It isn't a knock on Kane to say Rooney emerges as the victor in this category. And this is with us not even getting into the latter's so-so midfield arc later in his career (we need to destroy evidence of that ever happening, by the way).


Rooney was a European champions in his prime / ALEXANDER NEMENOV/GettyImages

This one's so easy it's almost unfair.

Rooney won 16 trophies in his career, Kane so far has zero.

It's an overstated part of Kane's legacy but not an entirely irrelevant one either.


Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane
A touch choice to make / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

There really isn't much in this debate outside of the trophy arguments and intangibles.

Your head screams Rooney. How could any other England forward be better than Rooney? It should be impossible.

The argument in favour of Kane is unbelievably strong. Until his career is over - and he's presumably won something with Bayern or England - it's hard to look past Rooney, however.

The book isn't closed on this debate, that's for sure. The championship belt belongs to Rooney, but there's time for Kane to wrestle it from his grasp.

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