The top 10 goalscorers in Europe since Lionel Messi’s Barcelona debut
Lionel Messi’s reputation as one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of the game is well-founded. But is he the top scorer in Europe’s major leagues since announcing himself with a goal on his Barcelona debut way back in 2004?
The shape of football in Europe’s major leagues has changed immeasurably since a teenage Messi first burst onto the scene. Legendary players like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Nazario and Alan Shearer were yet to hang up their boots.
Who have been the greatest goalscorers in Europe during the Messi era? We’ve ran through the top 10 top scorers in Europe’s five biggest leagues – the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1 – since Messi’s La Liga debut against Espanyol on October 16th, 2004.
10. Edin Dzeko – 221
The Bosnia international’s exceptional goalscoring record goes under the record somewhat. He’s outscored the likes of Wayne Rooney, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ciro Immobile and David Villa for goals in the big leagues since joining Wolfsburg back in 2007.
Dzeko scored 26 goals in Wolfsburg’s 2008-09 Bundesliga-winning campaign and 14 goals in Man City’s first Premier League title of 2011-12, including the vital late equaliser against QPR on the final day.
Now 37 and finally slowing down at Inter, he arguably peaked in his thirties, having scored 85 goals in 199 Serie A appearances for Roma.
9. Gonzalo Higuain – 237
One of the most divisive figures of his generation, Higuain might not have been the best big-game player – as Argentina fans might attest – but he was astonishingly consistent at scoring goals in league campaigns.
Preferred to Karim Benzema for a long while at Real Madrid, El Pipita scored over 100 La Liga goals for Real Madrid before proving even more effective in Italy, peaking with 71 goals in 104 Serie A appearances for Napoli.
He then went on to add a further 48 league goals for Juventus, including 24 in their title-winning 2016-17 campaign.
8. Luis Suarez – 248
The Uruguayan spent just over a decade turning out in Europe’s major leagues, having joined Liverpool from Ajax at the age of 24 in 2011. But he was devastatingly prolific during those prime years.
His heroics almost singlehandedly led Liverpool to the Premier League title in 2013-14 and he was unstoppable at Barcelona, becoming the club’s third all-time top scorer in just six seasons before adding a further 32 La Liga goals in two seasons with Atletico Madrid.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 11, 2020
7. Sergio Aguero – 259
Messi’s best mate from the Argentina youth set-up left boyhood club Independiente for Atletico Madrid in 2006 when he was 18 years old.
Aguero soon proved himself a phenomenal talent, scoring 74 La Liga goals as a youngster for Atletico. He subsequently spent his peak years at Man City and became their all-time top scorer, notching 184 Premier League goals across his 10 seasons in England.
A heart issue forced Aguero into early retirement at the age of 33, but he ended his career by scoring his first and only goal for Barcelona in El Clasico.
6. Edinson Cavani – 267
Few knew the Uruguayan striker’s name when he arrived in Europe as a promising 20-year-old back in 2007, signing for Palermo from Uruguayan side Danubio.
Cavani scored 34 Serie goals in 109 appearances for the Rosanero, earning a move to Napoli. From there he’s banged in the goals wherever he’s been, particularly during a seven-year stint at PSG where he notched 138 goals in 200 Ligue 1 appearances.
A return to South America – Boca Juniors specifically – was mooted when he left Manchester United last summer, but he ended up staying put in Europe and joined Valencia on a free. Perhaps the 36-year-old will be regretting that as Los Che battle against the drop.
5. Karim Benzema – 276
Like Messi, the current Ballon d’Or holder made his professional debut back in the 2004-05 season.
Benzema gradually began to establish himself as one of the finest strikers of his generation at Lyon and made his career-defining move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009.
You imagine this number would be considerably bigger had he not spent nine years playing second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
Still, he’s fifth in La Liga’s all-time scoring charts with 233 goals for Los Blancos and could well move up to third by the time he hangs up his boots.
— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadrid) April 4, 2023
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – 298
Ibrahimovic scored 16 league goals in Sweden for hometown club Malmo and 35 Eredivisie goals for Ajax before arriving at one of Europe’s major leagues, signing for Juventus in 2004.
Since then he’s scored over 100 goals in Serie A and Ligue 1, plus a fair few in La Liga and the Premier League for Barcelona and Manchester United respectively.
Still going strong at the age of 41.
3. Robert Lewandowski – 329
The Poland international burst into the wider world attention by banging them in for Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund.
From there a move to Bayern Munich always felt inevitable and sure enough he ended winning the Bundesliga title in each of his nine seasons in Bavaria, scoring 238 goals in the process.
Add the 78 goals he scored for Dortmund and Lewandowski ended up 53 goals off Gerd Muller’s all-time Bundesliga record.
You imagine he would’ve beat Der Bomber’s legendary tally had he stuck around, but instead he moved to Barcelona and has so far notched 17 goals in his debut La Liga campaign.
We’ll never stop thinking about how his career might have panned out had he joined Big Sam’s Blackburn from Lech Poznan way back when…
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – 491
The only player on this list other than Ibrahimovic that made their debut in a major European league before Messi, Ronaldo made his bow for boyhood club Sporting in August 2002 and moved to Manchester United the following summer.
The Portugal international scored four Premier League goals for United before Messi made his La Liga debut with Barcelona and soon enough an era-defining rivalry was born. Messi is now just one goal off equalling Ronaldo’s tally for goals in major European leagues in total. Add in three goals for Sporting and Messi’s tally to beat for the European leagues stands at 498.
1. Lionel Messi – 494
‘Who else but Lionel Messi?’ to give him his full title.
The legendary Argentinian got his career off to a fitting start by notching on his La Liga debut for Barcelona. That would be the first of 474 goals in 520 league appearances for Messi at Barcelona. That’s the most goals scored in La Liga, or any major European league, by some distance.
He’s since added a further 20 Ligue 1 goals for PSG for good measure.