Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny Cristiano Ronaldo his place in the pantheon of football’s all-time greats.
Lionel Messi gets the plaudits as the modern day star of the beautiful game thanks to his sublime technical ability, but as far as pure hunger for goalscoring goes the Argentine cannot yet hold a candle to CR7.
With his brace in Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Arsenal in December, Ronaldo became the first player of the modern era to score 800 goals in official, non-friendly matches.
According to the unofficial statistics, Ronaldo is the fifth player in history to join the illustrious 800 club, and to give you an idea of just how extraordinary that record is, of those still playing Messi is next best at 777 – he will surely join his nemesis in the gang before the end of his career – but then there’s a significant drop-off to Zlatan Ibrahimovic (573), Robert Lewandowski (563) and Luis Suarez (509).
But there are four other players in Ronaldo’s crosshairs, so who does he need to pass to become football’s official top goalscorer of all time?
#4 – Ferenc Puskas (806 goals)
Widely regarded as one of the greatest ever, Ferenc Puskas was the diminutive Hungarian with a healthy appetite for goals.
To offer some context to his achievements on the pitch, Puskas averaged far more than a goal per game in international matches – 162 in 123 – at a time when few players enjoyed the luxuries of first-class travel and hospitality. In amongst that, he won an Olympic gold medal with Hungary and led them to their first World Cup final in 1954.
At the domestic level, Puskas scored more than 500 goals for Honved in his native country and then Real Madrid, where he became of the club’s first Galacticos on his way to winning top goalscorer in La Liga, as we now know it, four times.
To offer an idea of his standing in the sport, these days the FIFA Puskas Award is given to the goal judged to the best each season, and so his legacy as one of football’s first superstars is secure.
#3 – Ronald Rooke (886 goals)
Ronald Rooke – or Ronnie as he was generally known – may be a new name to many fans of the beautiful game, but he was a legend of both pre and post-war football in London in particular.
He enjoyed goal-laden spells at Arsenal, Fulham and Crystal Palace, with his exploits going on to land him a sole England cap in 1942.
Fulham paid £300 for his services in 1936, and he went on to score 70 goals for the Cottagers – including six in one FA Cup tie against Bury, which remains a club record to this day.
Rooke bludgeoned more than 100 goals for Arsenal – he still holds the record for most goals in a single season for the Gunners ahead of Ian Wright, Thierry Henry and co – and Crystal Palace too, but it was in the non-league game where most of his haul came.
According to the data, nobody in history has scored more league goals than Rooke.
#2 – Josef Bican (948 goals)
While there’s some dispute over his official goal tally, there’s no doubt that Josef Bican is one of the most prolific strikers in the history of football.
The RSSSF data has him down as having netted 948 goals, and while FIFA’s own tally has the Austrian at 805 goals, he is still very much part of this elite band.
Bican notched a goal per game in club football in his native Austria, before moving to Czech outfit Slavia Prague – there, he notched a scarcely believable 427 goals in 221 matches.
The forward was still banging in the goals well into his forties, and the International Federation of Football History & Statistics awarded him the Golden Ball to recognise his status as the ‘greatest goalscorer of the twentieth century’.
#1 – Erwin Helmchen (982 goals)
There’s one man who might take umbrage with Bican’s status as the ‘greatest’: Erwin Helmchen.
The German reportedly netted almost 1,000 goals in a career in which he never left his native land, and the record books show that Helmchen has scored more hat-tricks than any other player in official games (141) and sits second on the most goals scored for a single club (667) – an honour latterly taken by Messi at Barcelona.
They were scored for PSV Chemnitz, while similarly prolific spells at FV Brandenburg Cottbus, SG Chemnitz Nord and VFB Lubeck also contributed to that mammoth goal haul.
It’s believed that Helmchen once scored 120 goals in a single season back in 1932/32, and it’s amazing to think that he never once represented Germany at international level – it’s been said that the striker was a prickly character at times who made a ‘bad impression’ when training with the national team. He also missed one call-up after instead attending a wedding!
But it’s likely that his goalscoring exploits will never be matched….maybe it’s time the name Erwin Hemchen was lauded amongst football’s greats.