5 Greatest Goal Scorers of All Time
The aim of football is pretty simple really – score more goals than your opponent to win the game. In this list we take a look at historic greats of the beautiful game who didn’t just make scoring goals look easy; they made their craft of hitting the back of the net a prolific form of art.
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1. Arthur Friedenreich – 1,329 goals
Image Source: MARCA via Twitter
Known as the King of Football during the peak of an illustrious career spanning 26 years, Friedenreich and his remarkable scoring achievements have been largely forgotten by time, particularly considering the recognition and fame gained by other players later in the twentieth century. Indeed, he wasn’t even listed amongst the top fifty footballers when the IFFHS World Player of the 20th Century votes were cast, although he did rank fifth in the Brazilian country vote.
Friedenreich was born of a German father and African Brazilian mother. Just 17 when he started his career with Germania, a team established by German immigrants. His mixed-race origins would prove vital, making him one of the first players of colour to make the breakthrough, during an era when racism was prevalent and football was still considered to be a sport played by the elite classes of society in Brazil.
Breaking through those barriers, Friedenreich went on to represent Brazil and a host of clubs during his impressive career, amassing 1,329 goals in 1,239 games, before hanging up his boots aged 43 at Flamengo in 1935. However, without the existence of documentary evidence for all his goals, his scoring achievements remain a topic of debate to this day.
2. Pele – 1,281 goals
Image Source: IFFHS World Player of the 20th Century
Undoubtedly, it was the 1958 World Cup that propelled Pele to worldwide fame at the tender age of 17 with the Brazil national team. However, the supremely talented youngster had already been blazing a trail of goals in domestic competition with Santos, after making his senior debut aged just 15 on 7th September 1956 and scoring his first goal. That marked the beginning of what would be a truly prolific career.
Whilst his Brazilian predecessor Friedenreich is anecdotally regarded as the highest scorer of all time, Pele has documentary evidence to back his statistics. As such, he holds the official accolade for ‘Most Career Goals’ according to Guinness World Records, who recognise 1,279 of his goals in official competitions and international friendlies, plus two more in special appearances to reach the 1,281 total.
To this day, Pele is still regarded as the greatest player ever to grace a football pitch. And, more than half a century later, his team, Brazil, are still amongst the favourites with most bookmakers at 11/2 to win the next tournament in Russia. When Pele was in his prime, he helped them win the tournament a remarkable three times in 1958, 1962 and 1970. The latter as part of what is often considered one of the best international sides of all time.
3. Josef Bican – 805 goals
Image Source: with most bookmakers at 11/2 to win the next tournament in Russia
During a career that spanned four decades from the late 1920s to the mid-1950s, Josef Bican was renowned for his pace, power, and eagle-eyed ability for scoring goals. Born in Vienna, the changing political landscape during his lifetime saw him represent not only the Austrian ‘Wunderteam’ of the early 1930s but also Czechoslovakia between 1938 and 1949, with a single appearance for Bohemia and Moravia in 1939.
As a teenager, Bican impressed with Schustek and Farbenlutz, scoring more goals than games played, attracting the attention of Austrian giants, Rapid Vienna, where he scored 52 goals in 49 appearances. After a stint with Admira Wacker and refusing to join the Austrian Nazi Party, he spent the World War II years in Czechoslovakia with Slavia Prague, where his legendary scoring feats grew yet further, amassing a remarkable 395 goals in 217 outings. During that time, he was Europe’s top scorer for five consecutive seasons from 1939/40 to 1943/44. To this day, he also remains the only player to score seven goals in a game, on three separate occasions.
In post-war Europe, Bican opted to remain in Czechoslovakia and even turned down a potentially lucrative move to Italian giants, Juventus. Remaining fiercely neutral politically, he refused to join the Communist Party and was forced out of Prague, but after spells with FC Vitkovice and FC Hradec Kralove, he returned to the capital with Dynamo Prague and concluded his career aged 42 as the oldest player in the league.
4. Romario – 743 goals
Image Source: the Austrian ‘Wunderteam’ of the early 1930s
Although current stars such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo may eventually break into the top five, the only modern-era footballer to make this list is the supremely talented Romario. After starting his senior career with Vasco de Gama, he is best remembered for his scoring feats with PSV Eindhoven and FC Barcelona in Europe, during the most glittering period of his exceptional career.
Romario scored an incredible 165 goals in 167 games in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven, which lead to Dutch legend Johan Cruyff tempting the Brazilian to FC Barcelona, forming part of the fondly remembered ‘Dream Team’ at the Camp Nou during the mid- 1990s. At his peak with the Spanish club, he formed a fearsome attacking partnership with Hristo Stoichkov. However, a rift with manager Cruyff led to Romario departing after just two seasons.
Aside from a brief but unsuccessful return to Spain with Valencia, Romario spent the majority of his remaining years back in his native Brazil, continuing to register impressive scoring feats well into his thirties, before 2006 cameo spells with Miami FC in the USA and Adelaide United in Australia. Amongst a lengthy list of individual honours and accolades, Romario won trophies at practically every club he played for, whilst also helping Brazil to Copa America victories in 1989 and 1997, plus the memorable 1994 World Cup triumph.
5. Gerd Muller – 711 goals
Image Source: fearsome attacking partnership with Hristo Stoichkov
Whilst some players are remembered for silky skills and fancy footwork, Gerd Muller was never interested in wasting his time with such trivialities. All he wanted to do was score goals, and he is still considered one of the most lethal finishers of all time. Amongst his list of achievements was the record for scoring the most goals in one calendar year, which looked unbeatable for decades until Lionel Messi finally toppled it with Barcelona and Argentina.
Nicknamed ‘Der Bomber’, after the formative years of his career with 1861 Nordlingen, it was at Bavarian giants Bayern Munich where Muller would really make a name for himself. The spearhead of what was a magnificent side during the 1960s and 1970s, he won the Bundesliga four times, the DFB-Pokal four times, the European Cup three times over consecutive seasons, plus the European Cup Winners Cup and Intercontinental Cup. Muller’s final three seasons were spent in the NASL with Fort Lauderdale Strikers – an aptly named team for one of the best strikers of all time to finish his illustrious career.
Aside from the impressive feats for his club, Muller was also a vital ingredient in the success of West Germany during the early 1970s, helping his national team celebrate unrivalled success in the European Championship of 1972 and the 1974 World Cup. In total, Muller scored a phenomenal 68 goals in 62 appearances for his country, a figure that has only been surpassed by Miroslav Klose, who played more than twice the number of matches.