Ronaldo, Messi, Pele: Who is the greatest goalscorer in club football history?

  • Kobe Tong
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Cristiano Ronaldo is officially the greatest goalscorer in history, right?

Well, that appeared to be the case when Ronaldo found the net during Juventus’ Supercoppa Italia win over Napoli, moving to 760 career goals to overtake the 759 strikes that Josef Bican amassed.

But with statistics so difficult to track across multiple eras of the beautiful game, not everybody is convinced that Ronaldo holds the world record for the most goals in football history.

Greatest goalscorers ever

In fact, the Czech Football Federation dug deep into their data archives after Ronaldo’s 760th goal to corroborate Bican’s stats, only to claim that their nation’s legend actually scored 805 times.

And that’s not to mention the fact that Santos are claiming that Pele has scored more than 1,000 goals in his career, although it’s worth noting that hundreds of them were notched in friendly games.

However, even if Bican’s new figure is indeed true and we all agree that Pele has actually only scored 757 goals, then there’s good reason to think that Ronaldo will retire as number one.

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Is Ronaldo really top dog?

But according to the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS), Ronaldo still has some way to go when it comes to being named the greatest goalscorer in club football history.

Now, yes, this is another example of the stats differing across various sources, but given the prestige of the IFFHS, it’s well worth paying attention to their list on the top male poachers.

And their estimations only have Ronaldo as the third-most prolific goalscorer when his strikes for Portugal are removed, finding the net 661 times, which is 28 shy of their shout for the gold medal.

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Greatest club goalscorers

Overall, the list shows the 16 footballers who they believe to have surpassed 500 goals in club football, ranging from Ballon d’Or winners to lesser-know strikers from Northern Ireland.

There’s also a place for Celtic legend Jimmy McGrory above striking icons such as Uwe Seeler, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alfredo Di Stefano.

So, be sure to check out how the greatest goalscorers in history line up, as well as the only two forwards to get the better of Ronaldo, down below: 

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Ronaldo settles for bronze

Even we’re taking the statistics of IFFHS as gospel, Ronaldo can breathe a sigh of relief that there’s a pretty strong chance that he’ll be able to overhaul Pele and Romario’s tallies before he retires.

However, no matter whether Ronaldo retires tomorrow or ploughs on for another decade, there will sadly always be an element of doubt surrounding the greatest goalscorer in the sport’s history.

There’s good reason to think that Ronaldo will stomp on many of those grey areas before he hangs up his boots, but we’re always going to be playing a guessing game for as long as the older data is a little blurry. 

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But if there’s any advantage to us never knowing for certain quite who the number one really is, then it’s the license it gives us to celebrate each of these remarkable goalscorers individually.

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