Football, in simple terms, is a sport where eleven players try scoring more goals than their opposition. Considering how low-scoring football matches are compared to a sport like basketball, it is simple to understand how hard goalscoring is.
Throughout history, many footballers have excelled in the art of slotting the ball into the back of the net. As football has evolved, the role and duties of an attacker have changed. However, the key objective has stayed constant, i.e., scoring goals.
As scoring goals is vital to a team’s success and failure, it is no surprise that most of the best players of all time have been forwards. Players like Pele, Eusebio, and Gerd Muller were lethal predators in front of goal.
Over the last couple of decades, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have taken the mantle of being the standout goal scorers in football. But how do they compare with the stars of the 20th century? In this article, we list the top 10 goalscorers of all time.
Note: The list is in accordance with IFFHS.
#10 Joe Brambick (616 goals)
Northern Irishman Joe Brambick starts the countdown in 10th place. Born in 1905, he is also the oldest player on this list. Brambick’s most notable contribution came for Linfield, a club based in his hometown of Belfast. He scored 286 league goals in 183 matches for Linfield.
Overall, the centre-forward scored 616 goals, 54 more than fellow countryman Glenn Ferguson, who just missed out on the top 10. During his playing days, there was a time when Brambick was the top scorer in all of football. However, he was overtaken by Joseph Bican.
#9 Eusebio (622 goals)
Portuguese legend Eusebio scored 622 goals during an illustrious career that spanned two decades. “Black Panther” was not only a clinical striker but was also adored for his pace, work rate, and technique. He was equally adept with both feet and was a serial goalscorer.
Eusebio is fondly remembered for his time at Benfica, for whom he scored 473 goals in 440 games. The Mozambique-born Portuguese footballer was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1965.
Due to his African origin, he is widely regarded as the greatest African footballer of all time. The 5’9” striker scored 41 goals in 64 matches for Portugal and is easily the second-best player for his nation after Cristiano Ronaldo.
#8 Gerd Muller (634 goals)
Gerd Muller was a generational talent who redefined the art of goal scoring. He was a fox in the box, and opposition defenders could never leave him unmarked. “Der Bomber” scored 634 goals for club and country.
He won the Ballon d’Or in 1970 for his marvelous performances for Bayern Munich and in the FIFA World Cup for West Germany. He scored 68 goals in just 62 appearances for West Germany, including 14 at FIFA World Cups.
Most goals at World Cup tournaments (Ronaldo), most goals in a calendar year (Messi), most goals in a Bundesliga season (Lewandowski), and most goals for Germany (Klose) are some of Muller’s long-standing records that were broken over the last two decades.
#7 Jimmy Jones (647 goals)
Jimmy Jones is the second Northern Ireland international on this list, the other being Joe Brambick. Jones plied his trade two decades after Brambick, but they shared a common trait of scoring goals for fun. Jones scored a total of 647 goals. Unlike most players on this list, he didn’t have a memorable international career.
Jones spent 11 years at Glenavon and earned legendary status by scoring over 500 goals for the Lurgan Blues. He won the Irish League and Irish Cup three times each and was a central figure in Glenavon’s most successful period. He is still the record goalscorer in the Irish League.
#6 Josef Bican (720 goals)
Josef Bican’s goal tally is often a topic of hot debate. A few sources suggest that Bican scored over 1000 goals. However, only 720 of those came in official top-level games and are recognized by FIFA. The goal machine was the top scorer in his domestic league 12 times!
Bican was born in Vienna, which was then a part of Austria-Hungary. He has represented Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Bohemia and Moravia at the international level. His most fruitful years were spent at Slavia Prague, from whom he scored 535 times in 272 appearances.
#5 Ferenc Puskas (729 goals)
Having outscored Josef Bican by nine goals, Ferenc Puskas finds a place in the top five. Puskas was a terrific goal scorer and had one of the most dangerous left feet in the game's history. He most notably played for Budapest Honved, Real Madrid and Hungary, scoring 729 goals in the process.
One of Real Madrid’s greatest players of all time, Puskas formed a solid partnership with Alfredo di Stefano and won five La Liga titles and three European Cups. Despite being on top of the world during the early 1960s, he could never win the Ballon d’Or award.
FIFA honored the great striker by introducing the “FIFA Puskas Award” in 2009, which would be bestowed to the scorer of the most beautiful goal of the year. Puskas hung up his boots in 1966, with a goal-to-game ratio close to 1.
#4 Romario (753 goals)
Romario is part of the quartet who have scored over 750 official goals. The Brazilian marksman seldom features in the conversation of Brazil’s greatest footballers. However, his goal tally speaks for himself. Romario is one of just three players on the list who have played or are playing in the 21st century.
He was the main protagonist in Brazil’s 1994 FIFA World Cup triumph and was awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year for his contributions. The footballer-turned-politician scored 55 goals in 70 appearances for Brazil, including a whopping 19 goals in 1997.
#3 Lionel Messi (756 goals)
Lionel Messi is arguably the best player of all time. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is a brilliant passer, slick dribbler, and, most importantly, a great finisher. Messi has scored 756 goals so far and should at least end up in second place by the time he calls it a day in his playing career.
Messi recently went past Romario’s 753 goals and shows no signs of slowing down, despite being in his mid-30s. Messi holds several impressive goalscoring records, the most significant being “most goals in a calendar year (91)”.
The Argentine magician is the top scorer for Barcelona, La Liga, and Argentina. Messi stands out among his peers because he scores beautiful goals, which involve beating players and/or scoring long-range finesse goals. No player has scored more goals for a single club than Messi has scored for Barcelona.
#2 Pele (765 goals)
A few sources state that Pele has broken the four-digit barrier when it comes to scoring goals. However, the three-time World Cup winner has scored 765 goals according to IFFHS, which is why he ranks second on this list. Pele is highly regarded as one of the best players of all time, and along with Maradona, is the best player of the 20th century.
Pele was a serial goal scorer for both club and country. The Santos stalwart scored 643 goals during a nearly two-decade-long stay at the Brazilian club. He is also Brazil's top scorer with 77 goals in 92 matches. That record, however, could soon be broken by Neymar. Pele’s goal tally for Santos can only be trumped by Messi's numbers for Barcelona when it comes to scoring for a single club.
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo (801 goals)
Cristiano Ronaldo is the top scorer in football history when it comes to official top-level goals. Ronaldo overtook Pele a while ago and could easily reach the 900-goal mark given his fitness levels and poaching ability.
Ronaldo scored his 800th career goal against Arsenal a few days ago and added another goal under his belt when he scored the winner. The Manchester United forward is the highest goal scorer in UEFA Champions League, in international football, for Portugal and Real Madrid.
The charismatic Portuguese is an all-round striker who can score with both his feet and with his head. He has won five Ballon d’Ors and four European Golden Boot awards. Although Messi is two years younger than him, it is unlikely Ronaldo will let his long-standing rival overtake him.