Cristiano Ronaldo breaks Jimmy Greaves European league goalscoring record

Cristiano Ronaldo has broken Jimmy Greaves’ all time record for the most amount of goals in Europe’s top five leagues. Ronaldo’s two goals in Real Madrid’s 4-1 win at Celta Vigo yesterday, push him ahead of Greaves onto 368 goals. Impressively, Ronaldo has achieved his tally in 68 games fewer than Greaves, taking just 460 matches, compared to Greaves’ 528.

There is a general consensus that the top five European leagues are the top divisions in England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Ronaldo, like Greaves has played in two of these, his career split between England and Spain, whilst the majority of Greaves’ career was spent in his native England, with half a season in Italy.

Players to score 250 goals in Europe’s top five leagues

There are only 19 players in the exclusive club of players to score 250 goals in Europe’s main five leagues, some players are from before you were born, but if you want to have a stab at naming the 19, try our Sporcle quiz below. The answers are in the other tabs, so only click onto the graph or list if you want spoilers!

Sporcle Quiz
Player Goals Apps S.R. From To Clubs Eng Fra Ger Ita Spa
Cristiano Ronaldo 368 460 0.80 2003 2 84 284
Jimmy Greaves 366 528 0.69 1957 1972 4 357 9
Gerd Muller 365 427 0.85 1965 1979 1 365
Lionel Messi 347 381 0.91 2004 1 347
Steve Bloomer 314 536 0.59 1892 1914 2 314
Dixie Dean 310 362 0.86 1924 1938 1 310
Delio Onnis 299 449 0.67 1971 1986 4 299
Gordon Hodgson 287 456 0.63 1925 1939 3 287
Alan Shearer 283 559 0.51 1988 2006 3 283
Silvio Piola 274 537 0.51 1929 1954 4 274
Zlatan Ibrahimovic 268 398 0.67 2004 6 17 113 122 16
Klaus Fischer 268 535 0.50 1968 1988 4 268
David Jack 257 476 0.54 1920 1934 2 257
Charlie Buchan 257 482 0.53 1912 1928 2 257
Raul 256 616 0.42 1994 2012 2 28 228
Nat Lofthouse 255 452 0.56 1946 1960 1 255
Bernard Lacombe 255 497 0.51 1969 1987 3 255
Telmo Zarra 251 278 0.90 1940 1955 1 251
Francesco Totti 250 619 0.40 1992 2017 1 250

Europe’s 250 goals club – analysis

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Career

Strike Rate
Career Stats
Season Club Apps Goals Strike Rate
2003/04 Manchester United 29 4 0.14
2004/05 Manchester United 33 5 0.15
2005/06 Manchester United 33 9 0.27
2006/07 Manchester United 34 17 0.50
2007/08 Manchester United 34 31 0.91
2008/09 Manchester United 33 18 0.55
2009/10 Real Madrid 29 26 0.90
2010/11 Real Madrid 34 40 1.18
2011/12 Real Madrid 38 46 1.21
2012/13 Real Madrid 34 34 1.00
2013/14 Real Madrid 30 31 1.03
2014/15 Real Madrid 35 48 1.37
2015/16 Real Madrid 36 35 0.97
2016/17 Real Madrid 29 25 0.86
Total 461 369 0.79
Manchester United Total 196 84 0.43
Real Madrid Total 264 284 1.08

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Career Summary

Ronaldo’s professional career started in 2002 with a single season playing in his native Portugal for Sporting Lisbon as a 17 year-old. Ronaldo scored three league goals in his first season in the Sporting first team, however the Portuguese Primeira Liga is not counted in the top five European leagues, and so Ronaldo would have to wait to begin chasing down Greaves’ record. After impressing Manchester United players and manager Sir Alex Ferguson in a pre-season game for Sporting against United in 2003, Ferguson lured the then winger to England for a then record transfer fee for a teenager (£12m). It would take Ronaldo until November that year to get off the mark, scoring the second in a 3-0 home win over Portsmouth. Ronaldo concluded his first season in the Premier League with a modest four goals.

Ronaldo managed a slightly higher five league goals in his second season in English football, not yet showing the signs that he was going to destroy the goalscoring records throughout Europe. The next few seasons saw Ronaldo’s goal tally grow and grow. His figures for a season nearly doubled with every campaign. Five goals became nine, and in 2006/07 he scored 17 and was United’s top Premier League goalscorer. However it was the 2007/08 campaign where Ronaldo had his first true blockbuster scoring season, as he scored 31 league goals. This was a joint Premier League record for the most goals in a 38 game season, equalling Alan Shearer from 1995/96 (and has since been matched by Luis Suarez in 2013/14). Ronaldo’s last season in England, 2008/09, produced what would now seem a disappointing 18 league goals, taking his Premier League total to 84 goals.

Real Madrid signed Ronaldo in the summer of 2009 for a then world record transfer fee of £80m. Having played mainly as a winger during his time in England, he was more of a central player by the time he started his career in Madrid. On his Real debut, Ronaldo scored a penalty in a 3-2 home win over Deportivo La Coruna. His first season in Spain yielded 26 league goals, although he missed several games through injury.

Ronaldo was by now fully settled into Spain, and in 2010/11 became the first man in La Liga history to score 40 goals in a single season. He was forced onto a higher level by his great rival, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi the following season. Both players obliterated the record 40, as Messi scored 50, with Ronaldo just behind on 46. The next two campaigns saw the heat dropped a little, as Ronaldo scored 34 and then 31 La Liga goals over the next two seasons. This meant Ronaldo was over the 250 mark for European league goals before the end of the 2013/14 campaign. He cleared the 300 milestone by the end the next season, with his best season to date – 48 league goals. Ronaldo’s 35 goals in 2015/16 left him within striking distance of Greaves’ record for some point during this season.

His 2016/17 campaign is so far his worst in Spain, with Ronaldo almost certainly not going to reach 30 league goals, with just one game to go in the season. This will be the first time since his first season in Spain that he has not broken the 30 barrier. However, following yesterdays game he is on 24 La Liga goals for the season, a total many other strikers dream of, yet only half that of what Ronaldo achieved himself just two season previous.

Jimmy Greaves’ Career

Strike Rate
Career Stats
Season Club Apps Goals Strike Rate
1957/58 Chelsea 35 22 0.63
1958/59 Chelsea 42 32 0.76
1959/60 Chelsea 40 29 0.73
1960/61 Chelsea 40 41 1.03
1961/62 A.C. Milan 12 9 0.75
Tottenham Hotspur 22 21 0.95
1962/63 Tottenham Hotspur 41 37 0.9
1963/64 Tottenham Hotspur 41 35 0.85
1964/65 Tottenham Hotspur 41 29 0.71
1965/66 Tottenham Hotspur 29 15 0.52
1966/67 Tottenham Hotspur 38 25 0.66
1967/68 Tottenham Hotspur 39 23 0.59
1968/69 Tottenham Hotspur 42 27 0.64
1969/70 Tottenham Hotspur 28 8 0.29
West Ham United 6 4 0.67
1970/71 West Ham United 32 9 0.28
Total 528 366 0.69
Chelsea Total 157 124 0.79
A.C. Milan Total 12 9 0.75
Tottenham Hotspur Total 321 220 0.69
West Ham United Total 38 13 0.34

Jimmy Greaves’ Career Summary

A 17 year-old Jimmy Greaves broke into the Chelsea first team and onto the First Division scene in 1957, with a goal on his Blues debut. Ironically this came against Tottenham at White Hart Lane – the stadium which saw the most of Greaves goals. Greaves ended his debut season as club top scorer with 22 goals. In his second season of professional football, 1958/59 Greaves was First Division top scorer with 32 goals. Before he was 21 he had already racked up 100 top flight goals, and his final season with Chelsea saw him net a club record, and career best 41 league goals. Despite Greaves’ goals, Chelsea never finished in the top ten in his four seasons at Stamford Bridge, leading Greaves to desire club success elsewhere.

Italian giants A.C. Milan got Greaves’ signature for £80,000 in the summer of 1961. Greaves changed his mind about leaving London and tried to cancel the move, but the Serie A side did not allow the deal to be annulled. Greaves scored nine goals in 12 league games in red and black before a disagreement with his manager led to a return to London, with reigning double holders Tottenham Hotspur. He joined Spurs in December 1961 for £99,999, as manager Bill Nicholson wanted to keep the pressure off Greaves, and not make him the first £100k player in British football. Greaves was quickly up to speed, scoring a hat-trick on his Tottenham debut and still managed to break the 20 barrier for First Division goals.

Greaves was the First Division’s outright top scorer in his first two full seasons with Spurs, and was join top scorer in his third. He missed the first few months of the 1965/66 season with illness which explains his first season with less than 20 league goals. Three more seasons of 20 topping tallies were to follow, culminating in a fifth outright top scorer accolade in 1969 – ten years after his first.

Greaves fell out of form and favour in 1970 and was allowed to join West Ham United where he closed out the final 14 months of his career with 13 league goals, citing motivation as the key factor in his retirement at 31. Unlike Ronaldo, Greaves career was surprisingly trophy bare, he never won a league title (although A.C. Milan did win the league the season he played the first three months of). Greaves has just a couple of FA Cup winners medals and was a non-playing member of England’s 1966 World Cup final squad to show for all his goals.

Ronaldo and Greaves, different players from different eras

Whilst Greaves and Ronaldo’s career tallies may be similar, their careers differ greatly. Greaves burst onto the goalscoring scene aged 17, scoring more than 20 league goals in each of his first eight seasons, where as Ronaldo broke himself in at a slower pace, taking until he was 23 to reach the 20 milestone for a single campaign. This is clearly highlighted by looking at the cumulative career goal comparison chart below – Greaves was almost 150 goals ahead of Ronaldo in his career at 24 years-old.

Jimmy Greaves and Cristiano Ronaldo cumulative career goals

The Englishman’s strike rates tended to get progressively worse throughout his career, with Ronaldo doing the opposite and improving. Ronaldo has impressively scored more goals than games played in his eight seasons with Real Madrid. You can break this down into four seasons where he has bettered a goal-a-game ratio, whilst Greaves only achieved this feat once in his career. Greaves does hold more top marksmen awards, five and one shared to Ronaldo’s four, however you could argue that the Portuguese maestro would have more, if it were not for him constantly competing against another goalscoring legend in Lionel Messi.

It has to be said, that Greaves’ record has been in danger for some time now, and not just from Ronaldo, but from Messi as well. Ronaldo’s feat is even more impressive given that the era he is playing in has far less goals per game, than the net-busting 50s and 60s of Greaves day. The average goals per game across Greaves’ playing career is 3.16, whilst Ronaldo’s is 2.68. To put that simpler, Ronaldo is playing in leagues with half a goal less per game than Greaves did. With the Portuguese star only 32 and still comfortably scoring 20 goals a season for arguably the best side in Europe, it just leaves wonder how high he will push his total before he calls it a day.

2 thoughts on “Cristiano Ronaldo breaks Jimmy Greaves European league goalscoring record

  1. At the end of the 2020/21 season 3 new players have broken the 250 goal milestone, with increased tallies also for 3 players:
    – 476: Ronaldo
    – 474: Messi
    – 293: Ibrahimovic
    – 277: Lewandowski
    – 260: Cavani
    – 258: Aguero

    3 other players could realistically break into the 250 club in the 2021/22 season:
    – 237: Suarez
    – 237: Higuain
    – 235: Benzema
    (Although in the case of Higuain he would need to leave the MLS and return to Europe)

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