Cristiano Ronaldo crowned the GOAT ahead of Messi and Pele by mathematical study

  • Rob Swan

The debate over which footballer deserves the title of ‘greatest of all time [GOAT]’ will rumble on for decades and perhaps even centuries to come.

Ultimately, it’s all down to personal opinion, so there is no right or wrong answer. Right?

Well, Dr Tom Crawford, who works as a mathematician at the University of Oxford, has attempted to settle the GOAT debate once and for all on behalf of LiveScore.

“As football fans we have all grown up mesmerised by the most iconic players of our respective generations. However, when it comes to debating the Greatest of all Time, crowning the G.O.A.T. has been a difficult challenge,” Ric Leask, Marketing Director at LiveScore, said.

“For the first time, we wanted to apply the science of maths to help us solve the eternal question, and it has been fascinating to watch Professor Tom Crawford pour over the numbers on behalf of millions of global fans. The G.O.A.T. Index is about far more than a score, for us it helps to settle a debate that has run for generations.”

In order to qualify for the GOAT Index shortlist, players must have won at least two Ballon d’Or awards.

The shortlisted players then had to score highly against seven different categories to qualify for the final 10.

Final 10

The Final 10 were as follows: Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Pele, Diego Maradona, Marco van Basten, Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ronaldo, Michel Platini.


Round 1: Club titles

For each league victory, a player was awarded the UEFA coefficient for that particular season. The UEFA coefficient is used to determine the difficulty of winning a league title.

These were the standings after Round 1…


Round 2: International titles

Players were marked based on World Cup wins (150 points) and European Championship and Copa America triumphs (100 points).

Brazilian Ronaldo earned the full 100 points in this category, ahead of Pele (66 points) and Maradona (54 points).

These were the standings after Round 2…


Round 3: Goals for your club

This was calculated based on the total number of goals scored multiplied by the goals-per-game factor for that particular player.

Puskas took all 100 points here, followed by Pele (98 points) and Messi (84 points).

These were the standings after Round 3…


Round 4: Goals for your country

A simple calculation: points based on the number of goals scored.

Ronaldo recently broke Ali Daei’s long-standing record to become the greatest goalscorer in international football history, so he took all 100 points in Round 4.

These were the standings after Round 4…


Round 5: Ballon d’Or

Based on the number of votes awarded to the Ballon d’Or winner divided by the total number of votes awarded to the top three players. This was then multiplied by 100 to give a percentage.

South American players were ineligible to win the prestigious individual accolade earlier in its history, so France Football’s retrospective awards from 2015 were used for the purposes of this mathematical study.

Pele subsequently took top spot followed by Messi (96 points) and Ronaldo (78 points).

These were the standings after Round 5…


Round 6: Records

Records including the most number of goals scored internationally, the most goals scored for a particular club or in a particular competition were used here.

One hundred points were awarded to a standout record holder. If the record was shared, 50 points were awarded to each player.

Ronaldo, who boasts five different world records, was awarded the full 100 points for this category.

These were the standings after Round 6…


Round 7: Z-Factor seasons

Based on the seasons a player carried his team to glory – the campaigns that are mathematically outstanding, as defined by something called the ‘Z-Factor’.

Messi took all 100 points for this category, followed by Ronaldo (71 points) and Van Basten (57 points).

These were the standings after Round 7…


Final standings


So, there you have it: Ronaldo is the GOAT, according to LiveScore’s mathematical study.

Messi made a late charge for top spot in Round 7 but it was Ronaldo who finished ahead of his fellow legends, according to this mathematical study.

“As a massive football fan, I have long debated with my friends who the greatest player of all time is. I have loved bringing maths to the masses over the past few years, so being able to showcase how you can use it within the world of football has been a lot of fun,” Dr Crawford said.

“Whilst Cristiano Ronaldo has come out on top from my algorithm, it is clear that all the other players’ stats are absolutely incredible, and I am sure the debate will continue!”

You can watch the mathematical study in full here…


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