Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: Could Pele's world record of 1,238 goals ever be broken?

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been tearing down Pele's records this season.

First up, Messi set a new world record for the most goals scored for a single club when he notched his 644th strike for Barcelona, surpassing the 643 goals that Pele produced with Santos.

Then, just to rub salt into the wounds, Pele was surpassed by Ronaldo in the all-time goal-scoring charts when the Juventus superstar found the net for the 758th time in his illustrious career.

How many goals did Pele score?

However, despite Pele undoubtedly showing his class in the wake of these developments, it's clear that there are still a few people who think the Brazilian legend should still stand above the rest.

Besides, Santos themselves poured cold water on claims that Messi had broken Pele's world record by opining that their finest ever son had scored more than 1,000 times in the famous white jersey.

That's not to mention the fact Pele proudly labels himself as the 'Leading Goal Scorer of All Time' in his Instagram bio with 1,238 goals, though he didn't change that in light of Ronaldo's recent feat.

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Pele's reported 1,238 goals

We did some digging into Pele's supposed four-figure tally and the evidence is rather shifty with more than 500 of his goals taking place in unofficial friendlies and tour games.

So, yes, by all accounts, Ronaldo has surpassed Pele as far as official goals are concerned and Messi is comfortably on course to do the same, but that didn't stop us wondering...

Now, let's get one thing straight, finding the back of the net more than 1,000 times regardless of the context is still something that Pele should be proud of and he's undoubtedly one of the sport's greatest ever.

But that caveat aside, we wouldn't help living life on the more humorous side by highlighting just how downright impossible it would be for Ronaldo and Messi to chase Pele's tally of 1,238.

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Including unofficial goals

As a result, the first order of business was to level the playing field by adding goals scored in friendlies and for international youth teams to Ronaldo and Messi's goal tallies of 759 and 719.

Sadly, data isn't readily available for every friendly the two superstars have played in, but our best estimates boost Ronaldo's career total to 808 and Messi's up to 767.

Our more eagle-eyed viewers will realise that Ronaldo and Messi have only benefited from this alteration by less than 50 strikes, which isn't even 10% of the friendly goals scored by Pele.

Obviously, that has a lot to do with the changes in footballing schedules over the decades, but if you think we're intending this as a 100%-scientifically-accurate study then, erm, yeh, I'd lower your standards a tad.

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Predicting Ronaldo and Messi

The next stage requires some serious imagination because, in the absence of a crystal ball, it's technically impossible to predict of Ronaldo and Messi's goal-scoring will evolve as they get older.

But considering Pele has an advantage in the hundreds, we decided to take the best possible scenario by averaging the number of games and goals Ronaldo and Messi rack up per season.

For the record, Ronaldo has averaged 52 games for club and country in each of his 19 campaigns, scoring 42.5 goals, including friendlies, while Messi averages 49 matches and 45.1 strikes.

We'll have to keep our fingers crossed that Messi and Ronaldo's reduced appearances when they were younger account for the fact they would inevitably play less and get injured more as they age.

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How old would Ronaldo and Messi be?

So, making the gargantuan assumption that Messi and Ronaldo would be able to maintain these averages, we can calculate the seasons and ages at which they would hypothetically overtake Pele.

And well, the results are pretty mind-blowing with Ronaldo on course to achieve it at 46 years old during the 2030/31 campaign, while a 44-year-old Messi should overtake in the 2031/32 season.

That means they'd need to keep playing for another 11 years each. Sheesh.

If you're thinking that's pretty extreme, then you'd be exactly right and remember, of course, that this is the best-case scenario with Messi and Ronaldo averaging more than 40 goals a season... in their forties.

Yeh, let's face it, that wouldn't actually happen, so more pessimistic estimates would probably mean that Ronaldo and Messi would need to play beyond their 50th birthdays in order to reach 1,238.

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Take with a huge pinch of salt

By that point, Ronaldo and Messi would probably be resorting to playing in the deep depths of European fourth-tiers, desperately scrounging around for four-figures as their legs abandon them.

So, yes, don't just take this humble writer's calculator escapades with a pinch of salt, be sure to pour a whole dumper-truck of the stuff on it because it's only a harmless piece of nonsense.

We'll just have to leave it to your own imagination to work out whether Ronaldo and Messi would pass that magical 1,238-mark if they were playing for Santos in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

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Either way, though, let's appreciate the three of them for their own fantastic, individual achievements because, for my money, they're all deserving of a seat at the table of football's greatest ever.

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