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Cristiano Ronaldo and the confusion surrounding the record for all-time top scorer


Cristiano Ronaldo has twice has now been anointed the top scorer in football history just weeks apart, due to lingering confusion over who actually makes up the all-time top scorer.

After a brace for Juventus against Inter in the Coppa Italia semi-finals this week, Ronaldo has now scored 762 senior career goals.

An incredible tally, no doubt, but no one seems to know for sure if that’s enough for the record, as the goals of Brazilian icon Pelé and Czech striker Josef Bican are so contested.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Is Cristiano Ronaldo the all-time top scorer? | Marco Luzzani / Getty Images

The confusion was not alleviated by Spanish sports newspaper Marca announcing that Ronaldo has scored 763 goals, one more than their scores for Pelé and Bican each.

Marca produced a far-reaching graph for Ronaldo’s goals that shows twice totals of 762 – and the numbers they use are 762 – but that also declares an overall total of 763. Hmmm.

In the related article, other figures cited which highlight the distribution among the various teams he has played for during his career total a definitively false 813.

But 763 could be the right number after all. Marca’s chart lists five goals for Sporting CP, 118 for Manchester United and 102 for Portugal. But they only cite 86 for Juventus at 87. They also cite 451 for Real Madrid and that matches his profile on the club’s official website.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Ronaldo scored 450 or 451 goals for Real Madrid | Power Sport Images / Getty Images

But, strange as it may sound, clubs aren’t necessarily the gold standard for player stats and there are plenty of references elsewhere online for Ronaldo scoring 450 goals for Los Blancos.

Marca is such an influential publication that Real Madrid subsequently praised Ronaldo for becoming the all-time leading scorer, while the report spawned a number of similar plays which followed suit and also declared Ronaldo. like the top scorer of all time.

Oddly, Ronaldo was already hailed as the top scorer in history two weeks ago when he scored his 760th goal, a strike for Juventus against Napoli in the 2020 Supercoppa Italiana. That doesn’t mean he has scored 763 now, either, because he has only scored twice since.

Confusion over Ronaldo aside, the problem with the record for top scorer and the controversy surrounding it is not knowing for sure how many Pelé and Bican each scored.

How many goals has Pelé scored? | Central Press / Getty Images

Pele is hanging on to a record 1,283 goals in his career and even added this line to his Instagram bio, or at least one member of his entourage did, when Ronaldo was initially reported to have scored more than the great Brazilian last month.

Once all of the goals Pelé scored in unofficial or exhibition games were counted, his total goals would have been 757. It is not entirely clear how Marca arrived at 762.

Bican is even more contested because there are many more conflicting numbers.

Having played in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, it is much more difficult to establish a reliable total for him. Some believe it’s 759, which is why Ronaldo was credited when he hit 760. Marca says Bican got 762, while another tally widely attributed to him is 805. An article published by the UEFA in early 2021 cited “over 800” without ever specifying an actual number, and the Czech Football Association maintains that its total career goals in official matches was 821.

The only thing we can be sure of is that Ronaldo has scored a lot of goals, almost certainly more. official goals than Pelé and perhaps more than Bican.

But, in the end, it’s impossible to tell.

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