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Most goals scored in a calendar year: A look at the top five list

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Former Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is recognized as the player who scored the most goals in a calendar year. The Argentina captain scored a whopping 91 goals in 2012 to surpass Gerd Muller’s tally of 85 goals set in 1972.

Although the record - most goals in a calendar year - has never been acknowledged by FIFA as they insist that they don’t keep a track of goals scored in domestic leagues, the Guinness Book of World Records places Messi at the top. What’s most fascinating is that the forward scored 91 goals in a mere 69 appearances for both club and country.

Of those 91 strikes, 59 were scored in 38 La Liga appearances, 13 came in 12 UEFA Champions League outings and seven in other domestic competitions like Copa del Rey and Supercopa Espana. The remaining 12 were scored in Argentinian colours.

During his record-breaking year, Messi surpassed Bayern Munich great Gerd Muller in the list for most goals in a calendar year. In 1972, the Bayern Munich legend scored 85 goals and held the record for four decades.

Interestingly enough, during the same year, a certain Godfrey Chitalu of Zambia is believed to have scored 116 goals. Although there is no concrete evidence to back the figures, Jerry Muchimba, a Zambian football researcher, dug up the numbers and wrote an entire book on his career.

“Countries with well organised Football Associations have official records of all matches played by their national team and record holders for appearances and goals scored can be easily identified,” Muchimba explained.

“Unfortunately, this is not the case in Zambia. No official record of all national team matches has ever been made public so people can only guess as to who the record holders are,” Muchimba added.

FIFA has always refused to acknowledge the record insisting that they don’t keep records of goals scored in domestic leagues across the world as mentioned earlier.

Before Muller, Pele’s return of 75 goals in 1958 was the number to beat. The most fascinating thing about that achievement is that the Brazil legend was only 17 at the time. Pele is followed by countrymen Romario and Zico to complete the top five list. While Zico scored 72 goals in 1979, Romario notched the same number of goals in 2000.

Most goals in a calendar year

Player Goals Year
Lionel Messi 91 2012
Gerd Muller 85 1972
Pele 75 1958
Pele 72 1965
Zico 72 1979
Romario 72 2000

Meanwhile, taking into account the numbers since the turn of the century, Messi’s 2012 tally is followed by Robert Lewandowski’s figure of 69 goals he scored in 2021. The Poland international shares second spot with Cristiano Ronaldo who had scored 69 goals in 2013.

The Portugal captain, in fact, has breached the 60-goal mark in a calendar year on four occasions. 

Most goals in a calendar year in the 21sth century

Player Goals Year
Lionel Messi 91 2012
Robert Lewandowski 69 2021
Cristiano Ronaldo  69 2013
Cristiano Ronaldo  63 2012
Cristiano Ronaldo  61 2014

Featured photo: AFP / Jorge Guerrero

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