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Who scored the most goals in history?

The ultimate list with the highest goalscorers of all time

Goals are scored every day. In fact, there have been countless goals scored since soccer started in the early 1820s. It was when public schools in England began devising several versions of soccer in open spaces and parks. Two centuries later we can talk about legendary players, pioneers, mega stars and the best goal-scorers of all time. But, what about forgotten scoring legends? Those ones who recorded more goals than Pelé, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but the history books have forgotten them far too quickly. And they rightfully deserve their place in history.

Which soccer player has scored the most goals? The answer according to the Guiness World Records is the ”athlete of the century”, Pelé, with 1,283 goals. How close is this to reality? Josef Bican‘s biography book ”Bican pet Tisic golu” (Bican, five thousand goals) stated that the IFFHS best goalscorer of the century had scored 5,000 during his career! An insane figure, and also really hard to believe. The claim was made by his former teammate Franz ”Bomber” Binder and Bican himself. The RSSSF has counted a minimum of 1,812 goals for Bican in at least 1089 matches including official and friendlies, and 1,202 for Franz Binder.

Lee Wai Tong, the ”King of Asian soccer”, was said to have scored 1,260 goals during a 25-year career span, although some would claim that this figure may have been closer to 2,000. Australian Reg Date who scored 8 times in 5 matches for the ”Kangaroos” in 1947, claimed that he had scored 1,616 career goals including junior soccer.

His countryman Alf Quill has a more stunning record: he struck 24 times in 2 matches for Australia (against India) and retired in 1949 with 1,002 in total. Pele’s father, Dondinho, has been credited with 1,260, most of them recorded in lower regional leagues, a similar story for German Adolf Jäger who retired in 1927 after allegedly scoring more than 2,000!

Adolf Jager in 1910. The German scored over 2.000 goals for his club, Altona 93.
It’s…all goals that count!

Many would argue that unofficial matches should not be counted in that kind of debates. Nevertheless, the significance of a friendly back in the day was much higher than nowadays. A high-profile friendly would certainly attract massive crowds to the stadium. Let’s not forget the lack of live television coverage and the frequency of international club games almost one century ago. A soccer team would often tour throughout a country or a continent and the local fans would anticipate to watch the scheduled friendlies or tournaments.

The purpose of this article is to underline the importance of every goal scored throughout history. For instance Abe Lenstra hit the back of the net a minimum of 1,004 times -more than any other Dutch player ever- including matches in lower divisions and reserves. On 1 May 2018, Lionel Messi, one of the best players of all time, reached 1,000 goals, a figure included juvenile and youth soccer with Newell’s Old Boys and Barcelona. A soccer player’s life starts at a young age and those early years are an important and integral part of their career. Who can ignore someone’s first soccer steps, especially when they have contributed so much to the sport?

In 1954 Pele was 13 years old and Ameriquinha, the team he had founded with his friends, took part in a local youth championship organized by the newspaper Diario de Bauru. Ameriquinha won Bauru’s youth tournament and Pele went on to strike 148 times in 33 games! The amount of the youth goals he scored before joining Santos in 1956 is not known. His ratio in 1954 could give us an idea.

Can anyone imagine how many goals Maradona, Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo -the highest goalscorer ever in official matches according to IFFHS- or Lewandowski scored just as kids in parks and school yards playing with their friends in made-up teams? Three-figure numbers are a certainty, four would not be a surprise. If we even add the goals scored in training sessions, then the Bican’s 5,000-goal claim would not be that out of reality when it comes to a prolific scorer.

”You never get fed up scoring goals”

Alan Shearer

Think of that: Hungarian striker Lajos Tichy scored 201 goals in just 85 matches (official and unofficial) during the 1959-60 season! An all-time world record that will probably never be broken. Another Hungarian, Sandor Kocsis, came the closest with 170 in 80 games in 1954, while German Ernst Willimoski (of Polish descent) had 107 in 45 -all official- in 1940-41. Tichy finished his career with at least 1,912 verified goals in all matches and he is leading RSSSF’s list so far with 100 more than Josef Bican.

Lajos Tichy, the world’s all-time topscorer according to RSSSF

According to the ”Almanaque dos Artilheiros”, a Brazilian book of soccer statistics, German legend Gerd Muller scored 1461 career goals, while Brazilian striker Arthur Friedenreich has been credited as scoring 1329. There are also some other much-lesser known names that deserve to be thrown in the ring: Yugoslavs Slobodan Santrac and Mosa Marjanovic with 1,301 and 1,018 respectively, and Polish forward Waclaw Kuchat with 1,070.

Brazilians Romario and Flavio Minuano have both claimed to have reached 1,000 goals, with the latter having an incredible ratio for the Brazilian national team between 1963 and 1966: he banged 10 goals in 17 appearances. However, Argentinian Luis Artime‘s ratio for his country is even more impressive with 24 in 25 matches and 1,029 goals overall during his career. German Erwin Helmchen found the net a minimum 1,610 times in only 936 matches, playing until the age of 44. Englishman Ronald Rooke had scored over 750 league goals -including regional divisions and reserves- until 1961, the year he retired, aged 50!

German striker Erwin Helmchen scored more than 1, 610 goals in his career.
Puskas and the other Hungarians

On 25 November 1953, England hosted Olympic champions Hungary at Wembley, in a friendly that became known as ”The Match of the Century”. The Mighty Magyars beat the English by 6-3 in front of 105,000 spectators with Ferenc Puskas firing twice. The arguably best Hungarian of all-time, the only player to score 2 hat-tricks in a European Cup final (1960 and 1962), finished his career wearing Real Madrid’s jersey in 1966 and more than 1,571 goals to his tally.

”Scoring goals is like making love: everyone can do it, but nobody does it like me”

Alfredo Di Stefano

There was another mighty Hungarian who may not have played against England in 1953, but he had managed to strike 29 times in just 20 games for Hungary between 1946 and 1949! His ratio remained on the same level in league, cup and friendly matches (over 1.4). It was Ferenc Deak who ended is career in 1959 with more than 1,370 goals in just 830 games and there is more research to come by RSSSF about his stats.

Ferenc Bene‘s ratio was not as mouth-dropping as Deak’s, but he sent the ball into the net at least 1,412 times in 1448 appearances. The interesting fact about Bene is that he was a one-club man playing -and scoring- only for Ujpest and Hungary. Other Hungarian strikers who surpassed 1,000 goals were: Jozsef Takacs II, Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Szusza, Guyla Szilagyi, Gyula Zsengeller, Florian Albert, Imre Schlosser and Nandor Hidegkuti.

Therefore, who is the winner?

There have been more players, who were not household names, and achieved incredible scoring records in lower divisions all over the world and further examination would probably add more interesting elements in this never-ending conversation: ”Who scored the most goals in history?”. Given that there is a deficit of information regarding juvenile and youth goals on most of the players, it will be extremely hard to calculate the exact figures.

Let’s take a look at the following lists which feature statistics in official and unofficial matches.

RSSSF stats

Player                                    Goals        All Matches

Lajos Tichy (HUN)                1912+        1301+

Josef Bican (AUT-CZE)         1812+         1089+

Erwin Helmchen (GER)         1610+         936+

Ferenc Puskas (HUN)           1571+        1271+

Gerd Müller (GER)                 1483          1228

Ferenc Bene (HUN)                1412+       1448+

Ferenc Deak (HUN)                1370+        830+

Pelé (BRA)                               1303          1392

Franz Binder (AUT)                 1202+        831+

Jozsef Takacs II (HUN)            1201+        936+

Sandor Kocsis (HUN)               1183+        904+

Ferenc Szusza (HUN)               1132+       1008+

Guyla Szilagyi (HUN)                1114+        919+

Ernst Willimowski (GER-POL)     1076+        685+

Gyula Zsengeller (HUN)            1069+        947+

Florian Albert (HUN)                 1017+       1093+

Imre Schlosser (HUN)               1017+        797+

Abe Lenstra (HOL)                    1004+       1033+

Nandor Hidegkuti (HUN)          1003+       1044+

Romario (BRA)                          1002          1209


”Almanaque dos Artilheiros” stats

Player                                         Goals

Josef Bican (AUT-CZE)             1468

Gerd Müller (GER)                     1461

Arthur Friedenreich (BRA)        1329

Slobodan Santrac (YUG)          1301

Pele (BRA)                                 1268

Ferenc Puskas (HUN)              1176

Ernst Willimowski (GER-POL)    1175

Eusebio (MOZ-POR)                 1137

Waclaw Kuchat (POL)              1070

Mosa Marjanovic (YUG)          1018

Franz Binder (AUT)                  1006


Special mention

Player                                  Goals

Adolf Jäger (GER)              2000+

Lee Wai Tong (CHI)           1260+

Lionel Messi (ARG)            1200+ (including juvenile matches)

Luis Artime (ARG)              1029