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Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Pele and Thierry Henry are just some of the greatest male finishers to have graced the beautiful game.
From penetrating defences to unloading on the goalkeeper and everything in between, the most lethal goalscorers always ensure that their opponents leave with their tail between their legs.
The art of finishing in football
And the very best finishers are those who can keep it up across multiple years and tournaments, showing their stamina by scoring over and over again to deliver the same payload with potency.
However, when there are so many top finishers from wingers-cum-strikers to born and bred centre forwards, it really does beg the question: who is the goalscorer to end them all?
Well, that’s what we wanted to find out here at GIVEMESPORT and we’ve turned to the trusty medium of Tiermaker to make it happen, ranking all the members of football’s finishing royalty.
Premier League Title Race Debate (Football Terrace)
Ranking striking icons
Taking the readymade ‘Greatest ever center forwards’ template and adding some optional extras of our own, there’s some seriously stiff competition amongst the final 34 poachers that we settled on.
Naturally, do bear in mind that it’s simply a matter of opinion and that all the goalscoring geniuses below have provided countless moments of pleasure to anyone who’s seen them in action.
In other words, there is no right or wrong answer when there’s so much finishing quality around, so we won’t discharge you for having a difference of opinion.
Football’s greatest ever finishers
But enough with the disclaimers because you’re in for the ride of your life as we take you through the greatest finishers in football history to see who’s got the whole package and who’s coming up short.
Paolo Rossi and Fernando Torres
Now, let’s get one thing clear: these two are top, top finishers. It just happens that they’re overhyped by no fault of their own and don’t necessarily hold up against the world-class goalscorers to come.
The late, great Rossi is an icon of the game, but the simple fact of the matter is that his entire reputation and legacy is disproportionately inflated because of his remarkable 1982 World Cup.
While, yes, six goals in the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final truly is the stuff of legend, that alone isn’t enough to justify the hyperbole around a forward whose most prolific season reaped 26 goals.
And although we love Torres as much as any football fan, we regret to inform you that ‘El Nino’ was only ever as lethal as the icons further up the list during his iconic 2007/08 season with 33 goals.
Other than that, Torres never reached 20 league goals in a single campaign, which is hardly the hallmark of one of the greatest goalscorers ever, nor in tune with all the hype that he receives.
Great player, good finisher
Sir Kenny Dalglish and Jairzinho
Now this is a pair of footballing royals if ever we’ve seen them and our respect for Dalglish and Jairzinho is strong to the extent that we think their circumstances were deserving of a special tier.
The moral of the story here is that although these two might be some of the greatest footballers of all time, they don’t necessarily compete with the other players when it comes to finishing alone.
Dalglish’s goalscoring record is often overlooked and Jairzinho scored in every game at the 1970 World Cup, but you’d be hard-pressed to say that finishing was what made them the icons we know and love today.
If anything, it’s arguably a compliment to them both that they were forwards who were so ‘complete’ that their overall footballing ability tops most players on the list even if their shooting alone might not.
A mortal amongst immortals
Emilio Butragueño, Filippo Inzaghi, Gary Lineker, Raul and Didier Drogba
This isn’t a slight on these players, it really isn’t, it’s just our polite way of saying that although they are undoubtedly legends of the striking position that other legends in the list make them look mortal.
You could always rely on Butragueño and Inzaghi for their lethal instincts in the penalty area, but their high-watermark seasons of 25 and 30 goals respectively don’t exactly leave us bowled over.
Meanwhile, although Lineker has a lot going for him with a World Cup Golden Boot and El Clasico hat-trick, we just wouldn’t put our life on him scoring a one-on-one as much as the strikers still to come.
We’d probably invest a little more trust in Raul when you consider his glittering record of over 300 goals for Real Madrid, but it just happens that we think there are 20 more ruthless strikers than him.
Perhaps the most controversial pick here is Drogba and if we were bump up his position then it would undoubtedly be down to his astonishing record in finals with nine strikes in ten for Chelsea.
However, when you consider the dizzying quality of the very highest tiers, can we legitimately place Drogba any higher when he only surpassed 20 league goals in a season twice? I’m afraid not.
Luis Suarez and David Villa
How often do you see Suarez named amongst the finest goalscorers of his generation? Not often enough, that’s when, because it feels as though his reputation often means that he’s lost in the shuffle.
And that’s despite being a two-time European Golden Shoe winner who matched the Premier League scoring record for a 38-game season and bagged 59 goals in just 53 games in 2015/16.
Meanwhile, Villa is too often overlooked for his out-and-out goalscoring despite becoming Spain’s all-time record marksmen and topping the scoring charts at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
He also formed part of arguably the greatest front three in history with Messi and Pedro as well as boasting a stellar record of 129 goals in 225 games for Valencia that isn’t talked about enough.
Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, Gabriel Batistuta, Samuel Eto’o, Ian Rush, Miroslav Klose, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jimmy Greaves and Hugo Sanchez
Now we’re talking. Aguero might just be the Premier League’s most naturally-gifted finisher in history with a record number of hat-tricks, outrageous goal-per-game record and uncanny knack for scoring at the near post.
But then again, maybe Henry is the top dog because his historic haul of four Premier League Golden Boots was only bettered by his ability to score all sorts of goals from any range or scenario.
With 30-goal hauls for Barcelona and Inter Milan, Eto’o is Africa’s premier finisher as a double treble winner and Batistuta is up there with South America’s best as a deadly marksmen for Fiorentina and Argentina.
Rush was a force of nature as Liverpool‘s all-time record goalscorer with no less than 47 goals in his finest season and Klose effectively gets in by default as the World Cup’s leading bagsman in history.
And dare we say that Ibrahimovic is underrated because – despite his arrogance and self-belief – lest we forget that the Swede has surpassed 20 goals for a season 13 times despite playing in seven different countries.
Greaves is England’s greatest ever finisher with 44 goals in just 55 caps for the Three Lions and Sanchez never dipped beneath 35 strikes per season during his prime years with Real Madrid.
Natural born predator
Marco van Basten, Ronaldo Nazario, Robert Lewandowski, Romario, Sándor Kocsis, Eusebio, Gunnar Nordahl, Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskas
In many ways, this is almost a top tier unto itself because these are the strikers and forwards that we consider to be the greatest of all time except from our picks for the top five.
With three Ballon d’Or titles and that volley in the Euro 1988 final, Van Basten packed more than enough goalscoring genius into his short career as arguably the best pound-for-pound finisher to have ever lived.
And the genius of Ronaldo really goes without saying because there’s good reason to think that he’d sit alone at the top of our Tiermaker as the goalscorer to end them all if it wasn’t for injuries.
Elsewhere, Romario claims to have notched more than 1,000 goals in his career and it’s criminal that Lewandowski has never won a Ballon d’Or despite scoring 75 times since the start of last season alone.
Kocsis’ record of 75 goals in just 68 caps for Hungary is beggar belief and Nordal’s resume might be even better with 43 strikes in only 33 Sweden games as he remains AC Milan’s record goalscorer.
And the second-highest tier is the least we can do for Eusebio with the 1966 World Cup’s top marksmen deserving all of the hype he receives for making 40 strikes a season look like a formality.
Finally, Puskas and Di Stefano truly are footballing royalty with a purported total of more than 1,000 goals between the Real Madrid pair and seven strikes in the 1960 European Cup Final alone.
Gerd Muller, Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, Josef Bican and Lionel Messi
What can we even say about this quintet? In spite of everything we’ve said up until this point in the Tiermaker, the simple fact of the matter is that these are the five greatest male finishers of all time.
For starters, Pele lays claim to more than 1,000 goals across legendary spells with Brazil and Santos, but even the more conservative estimates still place him at an outrageous 757 strikes.
Ronaldo is the all-time record goalscorer in international football and is now closing in on Bican as the most prolific marksmen in history, period, with the Austro-Czech’s tally touted to be as high as 821.
But even if Ronaldo does become the undisputed number one then he might have to look over his shoulder because Messi is smashing through the records with an even faster goal-per-game ratio.
Then, just to round things off; an unabashedly instinctive pick because Muller really stands out as one of the most natural finishers to ever grace the game and a man deserving of the highest tier.
Lewandowski and Messi may have broken some of his most precious records, but his insane record of 68 goals in 62 caps for West Germany and 563 strikes in 605 Bayern Munich games speaks for itself.
Who do you think is the finishing GOAT?
So, there you have it, seven tiers that will inevitably cause enough debate and discussion to keep you going for hours and hours on end.
At the end of the day, the nature of finishing in football is something so intangible that it’s often a guttural call deciding on who you’d want on the ball when it comes to taking the money shot.
It’s the age-old question of who’d you pick to score the winning goal in the climax of a game upon which your life depended.
Would you call upon Pele, Torres, Messi or someone else? It’s personal preference, but whoever it might be, you’ve got to make sure they’ve got the cojones not to blow it at the tip of your attack.
After all, a top finisher is much like an aircraft carrier: leaves opponents all at sea, stocked with missiles and rockets, deadly in the air, devastating for defences… and full of seamen. Too far?
I’ll see myself out.
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