Messi, Pele, Ronaldo, Lewandowski: The highest-scoring calendar year totals in history

  • Kobe Tong

Robert Lewandowski made history when he scored for Bayern Munich on Friday night.

By way of rounding off a 4-0 win over Wolfsburg in the Bavarians’ final game of 2021, Lewandowski notched his 69th goal of the calendar year to move level with Cristiano Ronaldo‘s personal best.

What do you mean by that? Well, the most prolific 12 months that Ronaldo has ever produced also saw him register 69 strikes for Real Madrid and Portugal respectively back in 2013.

Ronaldo & Lewandowski level on 69 goals

And when you consider that Ronaldo is many people’s pick for the greatest goalscorer to have ever lived, it’s fair to say that Lewandowski drawing level with the Portuguese is a feather in his cap.

However, as you will no doubt already be aware, Ronaldo and Lewandowski are made to look distinctly human when their high watermarks in a calendar year are compared to Lionel Messi.

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It still beggars belief that the Barcelona legend was not only able to surpass Gerd Muller’s world record back in 2012, but completely blew the feat out of the water with an astonishing 91 strikes.

So, yes, you don’t need a calculator to work out that Messi’s most prolific year saw him score 22 more goals – which is some strikers’ annual target, period – than prime Ronaldo and Lewandowski.

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Highest-scoring calendar years

It truly is mind-boggling stuff, but where does all this factor in to the wider history of goalscoring across calendar years in the men’s game? Well, we might just have the answer to that, too.

That’s because Goal reported the ‘Most goals in a calendar year’ list on their global Instagram page with the magnum opuses of Messi, Lewandowski and Ronaldo placed in their wider context.

We have already looked at the standings for the 21st century this week, but the purported all-time list means that Messi has a little more in the way of competition at the top, so check it out below:

Robert Lewandowski (2021) – 69 


Cristiano Ronaldo (2013) – 69 

Romario (2000) – 72

Pele (1965) – 72

Zico (1979) – 72


Pele (1958) – 75

Gerd Muller (1972) – 85 

Lionel Messi (2012) – 91 


Messi in a league of his own

So, while Lewandowski and Ronaldo are most certainly two of the greatest goalscorers in history, they have no less than four legendary forwards before their time separating them from Messi.

And while both the Bayern Munich and Manchester United poachers have aged like fine wines, you’ll forgive us for thinking that they won’t be threatening that 91-goal tally in the years to come.

Besides, bearing in mind that two goalscoring greats in Pele and Muller never managed to reach those heights, it’s not implausible to claim that Messi might well have set the bar for a century.


But even if a freak of footballing nature comes along in the next few years, just zoom out for a second and allow the list to really hammer the genius of Paris Saint-Germain’s little wizard.



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