Is Cristiano Ronaldo soccer’s all-time top scorer? Or is it Pele? Josef Bican? We may never know for sure

Ronaldo is used to scoring goal after goal, but the final phase of his career can only be the most important.

Ronaldo scored the 760th goal of his career following his 2-0 win over Napoli in the Italian Supercup on Wednesday. The goal was the only goal of his professional career, and apparently surpassed the reported mark of Czech striker Josef Baykan of Austria (759*).

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On the fourth. In January, it was revealed that Ronaldo’s two goals for Udinese, which he scored against legendary Brazilian Pele (757*), arguably the all-time leading scorer, put him one step ahead. However, there is still a hint of uncertainty as to whether Ronaldo is really the new record holder. Is Pele’s number really 767? Or 1283?

Ronaldo’s individual record is not in question, as all his goals are official and documented – most of them televised or at least reliably catalogued. At the start of his professional career, the Portuguese striker scored five goals for Sporting CP, 118 for Manchester United 450 for Real Madrid 85 for Juventus and 102 at international level, for a total of 760 goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo is said to have outperformed some big names in recent weeks. chesnot/Corbis via Getty Images

But the individual stats* of other players in the upper echelons of the team are highly questionable. For example, the Czech Football Association claims that the legendary Slavia Bikan from Prague scored 821 goals in the 1930s and 1940s, from 1931 to 1955.

The top scorer in the history of football?

The Committee for History and Statistics of the Czech Football Union has listed all the goals scored by the legendary Josef Bikan and we can say that he scored 821 goals in official matches.

Jaroslav Kolář, chairman of the commission, shares more details

– Czech Football Team (@ceskarepre_eng) January 21, 2021

Due to the lack of reliable data and scattered information about this period, it is difficult to determine exactly how many goals Baykan scored during his career as an active player. The Czech Football Association’s figures are more definitive than the somewhat vague list of at least 805 players listed by both FIFA and the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF), an online database of historical soccer statistics used as a general guide by several major sports media outlets, including ESPN.

Cristiano Ronaldo is now the top scorer in the history of football!

Cristiano Ronaldo: 760 laptops
Joseph Baycan 759 laptops
Pele : 757 Laptops

beIN Sports (@beinsports_EN) 21. january 2021


Cristiano 760
Bican 759
Pelé 757
Romário 749
Messi 719
Puskás 705

– Diario Ole (@DiarioOle) January 20, 2021

Elsewhere, Wikipedia notes that Bican scored a total of 823 career goals a figure obtained by combining information from the Czech Football Association and the RSSSF. The total number of Baykan is also often quoted by other media and press outlets as 759, but there seems to be no definitive source for this figure, which only underlines the questionable nature of the statistics.

Joseph Baykan is the all-time top scorer according to some records. Getty

Why are the amounts different?

As with Baycan, the same questions keep coming up when discussing and dissecting the exact number of goals scored by Pele. While the number of official goals scored by the three-time world cup winner is 767 (see below), the exact number of goals scored by Pele is still a matter of debate. The number of former Santos and New York Cosmos strikers varies wildly depending on the source you consult and the targets that count.

Pele himself would have us believe that he scored a total of 1,283 goals. The Brazilian legend denied it on the 6th. In January, he reported in a tweet that he had turned his Instagram bio into an eclipse of the all-time leading scorer (1,283) and Lionel Messi and Ronaldo usurping his records: The press has accused me of changing my Instagram bio to overshadow these big stars who are breaking my records. Bio text hasn’t changed since I’ve been on the platform. None of this should distract us from your incredible accomplishments.

Meanwhile, FIFA and CONMEBOL, the South American football association, have both stated that Pele’s career stats stand at 1,281 goals in 1,363 games.

Nevertheless, FIFA looked into the situation and summed up Pele’s statistics with just over 1,200 goals. Indeed, Pele’s personal assessment and that of FIFA takes into account goals from youth, friendly and international matches, which do not count towards the official goal record of current players.

The Guinness Book of Records confirms that Pele set a World Record with 1,279 goals in 1,363 games. The reason FIFA is making two goals is that it refuses to acknowledge the two goals Pele scored in special appearances for Santos after he officially ended his playing career with the New York Cosmos in 1977.

The RSSSF has a very different composition. Pele is on the list with 767 official goals in 831 games, which rises to 1,284 goals in 1,375 games if we add the estimated friendlies. The latest tally includes a handful of goals he has scored in various star and charity games between 1977 and 1990 since his retirement.

Given the nature of the data collected in the pre-numerical age, it is difficult to determine which indicator is 100% reliable.

Pele’s goal total includes many goals he scored in junior leagues. Art Rickerby/Time and Life Images/Picture Sourcing

Why 767 for Pelé?

After examining these figures, ESPN’s Statistics and Information Group determined that 767 goals was the most accurate figure for Pele’s official career. This is the number of official goals he scored for Santos (643) and the New York Cosmos (37) in national championships, cup competitions and continental tournaments, plus 77 goals he scored for his national team which excludes controversial goals recorded in other sources at youth, amateur and non-league levels. But there are ten more to be found.

In total, the RSSSF scored a goal in three appearances for the military team (not, of course, the 1981 film Escape to Victory?) and nine goals in 13 games for São Paulo Select between 1959 and 1962, when he played for Santos. And given the level of detail in the RSSSF’s research, ESPN’s statistics and information group is using it as a guide to Pele’s career, while acknowledging that these figures have not yet been confirmed.


Vasco da Gama fans are convinced that Romario scored 1,000 goals. ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP via Getty Images

The RSSSF estimates that the former Barcelona and Flamengo Romario striker has 772 official goals, while other sources claim 743.

The man himself is proud to have scored over 1,000 goals in total in his career. He even hired a Research team to count his catches, which enabled him to score what is believed to be his 1,000th goal from the penalty spot while playing for Vasco da Gama in 2007 at the age of 41.

The goal was scored in the 48th minute. One minute, and 20 minutes later, play resumes. The jubilant atmosphere at the San Januario stadium was amazing as jubilant fans entered the field to hug and congratulate their hero. Romario was then presented with a special custom-made jersey (with his name and the number 1000 on the back) by Vasco club president Eurico Miranda and was able to complete the lap of honour before the match finally got underway.

It is a great pleasure to achieve this goal, which only one other player has managed to achieve, he said at the time, referring to Pele.

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Unfortunately, despite all the pomp and circumstance of the official team, Romario is still very controversial, especially since the explorer scored goals in youth matches, friendlies and various other unofficial and exhibition matches. But that didn’t stop FIFA from congratulating Romario on reaching his goal, even though it simultaneously refused to acknowledge the minimum 98 goals the Brazilian had added to his tally.

In total, Romario scored 745 official goals in the league – not counting his own goals. Try telling the Brazilians that Pele (and Romario) didn’t score 1,000 goals.

Whatever the exact numbers, the adoration, love and respect that football fans in Brazil and elsewhere have for Pele is non-negotiable. They call him O Rei (the king), and he always will be. He won three World Cups with the Selecao and scored 12 goals in 14 finals.

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Pele scored what many believe was the 1,000th goal of his career in 1969, at the age of just 29. It happened from the penalty spot in Santos’ match against Vasco da Gama, in front of 80,000 fans frantically waiting at Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracana stadium. In an interview with ESPN last year, Pele described the goal as a gift from God – although he also admitted that he would have preferred the iconic shot to be a little more spectacular.

With all due respect to the penalty, if I could choose it, I’d rather it be more fun – maybe a volleyball game or a nice title, he said. However, it is often much more difficult to score a penalty than a regulation goal. I know what I’ve been through. My legs were shaking. The whole Maracana was asking me to score a goal and I thought: Oh, my God, I can’t miss! Many say it was just a punishment, but for me it was the hardest goal.

Strange as it may seem, Pele wasn’t exactly a regular punisher in Santos. Imagine how many more goals he would have scored in his career if he had also scored the 12 gauge pot.


Of course, you can never say for sure when or if Cristiano Ronaldo will become the all-time top scorer, or if he already is. The old documents are so unreliable that an attempt to fully ratify the historic goal becomes a largely unsuccessful task.

Nonetheless, we – as fans of modern football – can at least contribute to the irrefutable fact that we can watch one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time play every week.

It is a rare and precious honor that we should cherish while we still can. However, the debate will resume when Ronaldo reaches the 768 mark. Or 822. Or maybe even 1284.

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