In top-level football competitions, 23 players have scored 500 or more goals over the course of their career in both club and international football, according to research by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS), first published in 2007. Taking into account competitions of all levels, 56 players have reached the milestone according to research by the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF), an organisation described by German newspaper Der Spiegel as a "Wikipedia of football statistics". Hungarian Imre Schlosser was the first to reach the 500-goal mark, doing so in 1927 shortly before his retirement. Eight players have accomplished the feat at a single club; Josef Bican (Slavia Prague), Jimmy Jones (Glenavon), Jimmy McGrory (Celtic), Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gerd Müller (Bayern Munich), Pelé (Santos), Fernando Peyroteo (Sporting CP) and Uwe Seeler (Hamburg). Of these eight, Messi scored the most, with 672 goals between his debut in 2004 and his departure in 2021.
FIFA, the international governing body of football, has never released a list detailing the highest goalscorers and do not keep official records; however, in 2020, it recognised Bican, an Austrian-Czech dual international who played between the 1930s and the 1950s, as the record scorer with an estimated 805 goals, while CNN, the BBC, France 24, and O Jogo all acknowledge that Bican's tally of 805 includes goals scored for reserve teams and in unofficial international matches. UEFA, the governing body for European football, ranks him as the leading all-time goalscorer in European top-flight leagues with 518 goals, narrowly ahead of Hungarian Ferenc Puskás. The RSSSF credits Bican with 948 goals, a tally which includes goals scored in winter tournaments, as well as when selected to represent regional and city teams, and the Football Association of the Czech Republic claims a total of 821. Spanish newspapers Marca and Sport state that both Bican and Pelé scored 762 goals. Such is the difficulty for statisticians and media outlets to determine which goals to include that the topic has spurred controversy; Bican once walked out of a gala held in his honour by the IFFHS after the organisation had excluded war-time goals from his tally, although it later recognised 229 goals he had scored during the period.
Media outlets around the world such as Sky Sports, ESPN, and Globo Esporte argue that for Brazilian forward Pelé and players of his era friendly matches were highly important fixtures and held more resonance, and the tallies accumulated should therefore be included, while journalist Hugh McIlvanney once described them as mere "profit-making excursions" that bore little "relevance to Pelé's reality as a great player", and Jonathan Liew stated that many of the friendlies were "against up-country teams or down-at-heel invitational sides". When Argentinian forward Messi was reported to have broken the record for most goals for a single club (644 for Spanish club Barcelona), Pelé's former club Santos denied the claim, releasing a statement saying 448 of Pelé's goals scored in friendlies had been uncounted, and arguing that many of the goals came against "the best teams of all time" - statements Pelé agreed with by publicly changing his overall tally to 1,283 on Instagram. When reporting the statistics of Messi, Barcelona argued that because Bican and Pelé, as well as Erwin Helmchen and Abe Lenstra among others, scored the majority of their goals in leagues which were not played at a national level, their tallies should be questioned and potentially not counted.
In 2021, Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo was reported to have broken the record when he scored his 760th goal, although it was widely acknowledged it was impossible to quantify with certainty as statistics from previous generations are often disputed, as highlighted by football journalist Jonathan Wilson and Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport's editor Ivan Zazzaroni, who recognised the possibility that German striker Helmchen had scored a purported 981 goals. Ronaldo himself addressed the issue, saying that "the world has changed since then and football has changed as well, but this doesn't mean that we can just erase history according to our interests". There are other claims to the record; the Guinness World Records credits Pelé as the scorer of the "most career goals", with 1,279, and in 2007, Brazilian striker Romário celebrated scoring what he claimed was his 1,000th goal but later admitted his tally included friendly matches; they are reported to have scored 767 and 772 goals, respectively, with Pelé's total including one goal for the military team and nine goals for the state team of São Paulo for the State Team Championship. The Encyclopædia Britannica notes that Brazilian Arthur Friedenreich is "officially recognised" by FIFA to have scored 1,329 goals, although there is little evidence for, and no documentation of, this claim.
This section relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (September 2021)
According to the IFFHS and other media outlets, 23 players are credited with scoring 500 or more goals in top-level football competitions.
|Rank||Player||League||Cup||Continental||Country & special||Total||Years|
|16||Alfredo Di Stéfano||376||55||70||29||530||1945–1966|
As the RSSSF use different methodology from that of the IFFHS and other media outlets, 56 players are credited with scoring 500 or more goals in matches, taking into account competitions at all levels.[needs update]
|47||Alfredo Di Stéfano||513||703||0.73||1945–1966|
|53||Willy van der Kuijlen||504||805||0.63||1962–1983|