On Saturday, March 14, 2021, Juventus FC faced off against Cagliari for a Serie A league matchup. In little over half an hour of game time, Cristiano Ronaldo had scored three goals, or a “hattrick” in soccer terms, putting Juventus to a 3-0 lead at halftime. The final score ended up being 3-1, but the spotlight all went to the Portuguese star due to his splendid performance. This attention, however, came down to two important factors: he had come under scrutiny for failing to make an impact on the previous match and also because he had just surpassed Pele’s scoring record. The latter was highlighted the most as various sources had cited Ronaldo’s total goal tally at 767 over his entire career, which also equaled Pele’s total goal tally. With his three goals on Saturday, Ronaldo had officially overtaken Pele in the all-time scoring list. This is a bit confusing, however, as other media outlets as a couple of months back had proclaimed Cristiano Ronaldo as the football with the most goals scored in his professional career, with him having overtaken Pele much earlier who was previously the player with the second most professional goals in history, with Josef Bican being number one. However, the figure for Pele was then set at 767 goals.
Given his infamy for adding unofficial or unrecorded goals into his tally whilst also denying anyone else had bested him, it came as a surprise when Pele himself congratulated Cristiano Ronaldo on surpassing him. Pele responded to a post from Ronaldo on Instagram in which the Portuguese star emphasized the big influence Pele had over his career and how much this achievement meant to him. In response, Pele wrote on Instagram: “Life is a solo flight. Each makes his own journey. And what a beautiful journey you are having, I admire you a lot, I love watching you play and this is no secret to anyone. Congratulations on breaking my record of goals in official matches. My only regret is not being able to give you a hug today. But I leave this photo in your honor, with great affection, as the symbol of a friendship that has existed for many years.” Despite Pele’s acknowledgment, the debate on whether or not Ronaldo is truly the player with the most official goals in history remains a subject of controversy with the Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF)—a group dedicated to collecting all types of statistics for football—claims that Bican still holds the record for most goals with 805. This claim was also backed by FIFA. However, it has been pointed out that this total tally takes into account reserve games and unofficial international games, which in the eyes of many does not count as “official” goals. If the count were to be adjusted for this inflation, then Bican has 759 goals to his name. There is also the Guinness Book of World Records, which claims that Pele holds the record with around 1,279 goals. However, as mentioned earlier, the Brazilian legend has been criticized for inflating his own goal tally, and this number has also come under major scrutiny.
Still, even with the aspect of the controversy, it is clear by consensus that most official sources and counts that adjust for official goals, Cristiano Ronaldo is the player with the most official goals scored in football history. Whether he can hold on to this record, in the long run, remains to be seen.