World of Sport

Who is football’s ultimate big match goalscorer?

Gerd Mueller, Pele, Lionel Messi (Imago / PA / Reuters)

A football expert has analysed over 60 years of data to come up with the definitive list of the players who have scored the greatest number of important goals in the history of football.

Liam Corbett was inspired by the recent talk about Lionel Messi's goalscoring feats in 2012, which led first to him being feted for scoring more goals in a calendar year than anyone else - and then criticised for the fact that it wasn't really a proper record, then undermined by a string of claims made for other stars.

With the standard of football being played by all those contenders varying hugely, Corbett decided to come up with a means of separating the 'flat track bullies' - i.e. those who helped themselves to huge hauls against inferior opposition - from the big game players who have still had what it takes to find the net even under the greatest pressure.

A complicated system (explained in full on Corbett's blog) allocated weighting to goals depending on the opposition, looking at major international tournaments - for both club and country - stretching back to the 1950 World Cup.

A goal in a World Cup final counts for five points, for example, with one in a European Championship or Copa America final counting for four and a Champions League goal counting for three. Eighteen levels of match are considered.

The analysis resulted in a clear winner: German legend Gerd Muller, who won a World Cup and a European Championship with West Germany while also collecting four Bundesliga titles, three European Cups, three Cup Winners' Cups and four German Cups in a stellar career.

The very fact that the final match of his international career saw him score the winner in a World Cup final suggests that he's not a bad shout to top the list.

Three-times World Cup winner Pele only comes third, with Real Madrid superstar Alfredo Di Stefano earning second spot after leading the Real strike force that collected five consecutive European Cups in the 1950s.

Hungary's Ferenc Puskas and France's Zinedine Zidane round out the top five, with Brazil's Ronaldo right behind in sixth.

Bobby Charlton is England's highest-ranked player at 19th, just ahead of France's Michel Platini, while Geoff Hurst's hat-trick in the World Cup final is enough in itself to make him the only other Englishman in the top 50 at number 32.

That's a full seven spots better than Lionel Messi - who at 39th is a full 14 places below arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Maybe the naysayers are right after all: Messi really does appear to have filled his boots in less important matches, at least in his career so far.

Given that he is still just 25, however, we'd bet that he'll be a fair bit higher on this list by the time he hangs up his boots.

Rank Player Nationality Goals Points
1 Gerd Muller Germany 16 51
2 Alfredo Di Stefano Argentina 19 45
3 Pele Brazil 13 40.5
4 Ferenc Puskas Hungary 15 40
5 Zinedine Zidane France 10 33
6 Ronaldo Brazil 9 32
7 Alberto Spencer Ecuador 13 27.5
8 Vava Brazil 6 27
9 Mario Kempes Argentina 6 24
10 Eusebio Portugal 9 23
11 Marco van Basten Holland 8 21
12 Ademir Brazil 6 21
13 Dieter Muller Germany 7 20.5
14 Paul Breitner Germany 6 19.5
15 Diego Forlan Uruguay 6 19
16 Johan Cruyff Holland 6 18.5
17 Karl-Heinz Rummenigge Germany 6 18.5
18 Paolo Rossi Italy 5 18.5
19 Bobby Charlton England 6 18
20 Michel Platini France 6 18
21 Romario Brazil 6 17.5
22 Alessandro Del Piero Italy 7 17
23 Hector Rial Spain 7 17
24 Juan Roman Riquelme Argentina 8 16.5
25 Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal 7 16
26 Juan Alberto Schiaffino Uruguay 6 16
27 Marcelo Delgado Argentina 6 15.5
28 Hernan Crespo Argentina 6 15
29 Rob Rensenbrink Holland 6 15
30 Sandro Mazzola Italy 6 15
31 Sandor Kocsis Hungary 5 15
32 Geoff Hurst England 3 15
33 Kurt Hamrin Sweden 6 14
34 Chico Brazil 4 14
35 Johan Neeskens Holland 4 14
36 Zico Brazil 5 13.5
37 Jonny Rep Holland 4 13.5
38 Jari Litmanen Finland 6 13
39 Lionel Messi Argentina 5 13
40 Andreas Brehme West Germany 3 13
41 Gabriel Batistuta Argentina 4 13
42 Coutinho Brazil 5 12.5
43 Jairzinho Brazil 3 12.5
44 Santillana Spain 6 12
45 José Águas Portugal 5 12
46 Amancio Amaro Spain 5 12
47 Fernando Torres Spain 4 12
48 Horst Hubresch Germany 4 12
49 Ruud Gullit Holland 4 12
50 Karl-Heinz Riedle Germany 4 12