Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo & the confusion surrounding all-time top goalscorer record

Jamie Spencer
Sean Walsh
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored a few goals in his time
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored a few goals in his time / Nathan Stirk/GettyImages

Cristiano Ronaldo has now been anointed the leading scorer in football history on three separate occasions as a result of the ongoing confusion about what number actually constitutes being the top goalscorer of all time.

After a hat-trick for Man Utd against Tottenham in the Premier League, Ronaldo has now scored 807 senior career goals.

An incredible tally, no doubt, but nobody seems to know for sure whether that is enough for the record because the goal tallies of Brazil icon Pele and Czech striker Josef Bican are so contested.

Mad Maths

Ronaldo was firstly (and then secondly) crowned football's record scorer back in a two-week stretch back in 2021.

The confusion wasn’t been helped by Spanish sports newspaper Marca when they announced that Ronaldo had scored 763 goals after he hit a double for Juventus against Inter, one more than their tallies for Pele and Bican each.

Marca produced a wide-ranging graphic for Ronaldo’s goals that twice shows totals of 762 – and the numbers they use do add up to 762 – but that also declares an overall total of 763. Hmmm.

In the associated article, other quoted numbers that highlight the breakdown between the different teams he has played for in his career tallied up to a definitely false 813.

But 763 could have been the right number after all. Marca’s graphic listed five goals for Sporting CP, 118 for Manchester United (prior to his return, remember) and 102 for Portugal. But they only cited 86 for Juventus when at the time it was 87. They also quoted 451 for Real Madrid and that matches with his profile on the club’s official website.

But, as odd as it may seem, clubs are not 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 congratulated Ronaldo on becoming the top scorer of all time, while the report spawned a number of similar pieces that followed suit and also declared Ronaldo as the all-time leading marksman.

Bizarrely, Ronaldo was already hailed as the top scorer in history when he scored his 760th goal, a strike for Juventus against Napoli in the 2020 Supercoppa Italiana. That also didn't add up to him having scored 763 now because he only netted twice between those announcements.

After he grabbed a double against Spurs in 2022, it seemed there was a universal agreement that he had scored 806 goals in his senior career, which may be enough to earn the record.

Pele & Bican goal records

Confusion over Ronaldo aside, the issue with the top goalscorer record and controversy surrounding it centres on not knowing for sure how many Pele and Bican each scored.

How many goals did Pele score?
How many goals did Pele score? / Central Press/Getty Images

Pele famously clings to a record of 1,283 goals during his career and even added that line to his Instagram bio, or at least someone within his entourage did, when Ronaldo was initially reported as having scored more than the great Brazilian last year.

Once all of the goals that Pele scored in unofficial or exhibition games have been stripped away, his goal tally was thought to have stood at 757. It is not entirely clear how Marca arrived at 762.

Bican is even more contested because there are a lot more conflicting numbers.

Having played in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, it is far more difficult to establish a reliable total for him. Some think it is 759, which is why Ronaldo was credited when he reached 760. Marca say Bican got 762, while another tally widely attributed to him is 805 - the number that Ronaldo has now cleared.

An article published by UEFA in early 2021 quoted ‘over 800’ without ever specifying an actual number, and the Czech football federation argues his final career goal tally from official matches stood at 815.

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

But, in the end, it is impossible to say.

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