What is GOAT in Football )Soccer)?

What is GOAT In Football (Soccer)? An In-Depth Review

At its core, the term “GOAT” is an acronym that denotes ‘Greatest Of All Time.’ In the vast world of soccer, where countless talented players have graced the field, being labeled as the football GOAT is the ultimate accolade.

It’s not just a recognition of talent but an acknowledgement of unparalleled excellence. The title is not handed out frivolously; it signifies a player’s ability to consistently outperform their peers over a substantial period.

Key Takeaways

SectionKey Points
Origins of “GOAT”History of the term and its initial connection to sports.
QualitiesSkill & talent, longevity, impact and records. What makes a GOAT in football?
GOAT ContendersPelé, Maradona, the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate and other legends. Plus a professor’s quest to solve the argument.
Messi vs. Ronaldo DebateCareer comparison, statistical analysis and personal & team achievements. Going through the facts!
Subjectivity in GOAT DebatePersonal biases, regional & generational influences – could we really compare?
LegacyImpact on future players and the growth of soccer.

The Origins of the Term “GOAT”

Music and Entertainment Roots

The term “GOAT,” while an integral part of modern lexicon, did not originate in the world of sports. Its first instances of use can be located in the sphere of music and entertainment.

Specifically, hip-hop culture played a significant role in popularizing the term. Many credit rappers such as LL Cool J, who titled his album “G.O.A.T.” in 2000, asserting his claim as the Greatest Of All Time in the rap genre.

Initial Usage in Sports and its Connection to Soccer

Sports, with its inherent competitive nature, naturally embraced a term that so precisely embodied the pinnacle of achievement. Basketball was one of the initial arenas where the term “GOAT” gained traction.

As soccer is arguably the most popular sport globally, it was only a matter of time before the GOAT debates found their way into the heart of football fandom.

Soccer, with its storied history and global reach, had seen many legends grace the pitch. However, the rise of modern-day icons like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo intensified the GOAT discussions in football.

Their record-breaking careers, juxtaposed with legends of yesteryears like Pelé and Diego Maradona, brought the term “GOAT” to football discussions, columns, debates, and even casual conversations in pubs and living rooms worldwide.

Origins of the Term "GOAT"

Qualities of a Soccer GOAT

Exceptional Skill and Talent

Versatility in Skillset

A contender for the title of football’s GOAT possesses a wide-ranging skillset, from precise passing to tenacious tackling. It’s this versatility that makes them unpredictable and, in many instances, unplayable.

Master of Moments

These players have an uncanny ability to create and seize moments that define matches, tournaments, or even eras. Be it a last-minute goal, a crucial penalty save, or a mesmerizing dribble past multiple defenders, these moments become etched in the annals of soccer history.

Elevated Football IQ

Beyond physical skills, their understanding of the game is profound. They can read plays, anticipate moves, and often think several steps ahead, making them strategic maestros on the pitch.

Consistency and Longevity

Peak Performance

While many players might shine brightly for a season or two, a GOAT maintains this peak level of performance year after year. Their highlights reel doesn’t just span a few matches but entire decades.

Adapting to Change

As soccer evolves, so do its tactics, training methods, and even the physical demands of the game. A GOAT not only keeps up with these changes but often stays ahead of them, constantly reinventing their game to remain relevant.

Resistance to Injuries

Their incredible fitness levels and understanding of their bodies mean they’re less prone to injuries. And even when faced with setbacks, their recovery and return to form are often remarkable.

Impact on the Game

Tactical Revolution

GOAT contenders often become the focal point of their teams, around whom strategies are built. Their presence can change the dynamics of a game, forcing opponents to devise special plans just to contain them.

Inspiration to Generations

Beyond tactics, they inspire new ways of thinking about and playing soccer. Young players worldwide look up to them, modeling their game, work ethic, and even attitude after these legends.

Ambassadors of Soccer

Their impact isn’t confined to the pitch. They become ambassadors for the sport, promoting soccer’s values and expanding its global reach and popularity.

Records and Achievements

Trophy Collection

A true GOAT contender has a glittering array of trophies and individual awards. From league titles in top European clubs to continental championships, their victories span across clubs and countries.

Benchmark for Excellence

Their records often set the standard for others to aspire to. Whether it’s the most goals in a calendar year, the most assists in a league season, or even the most appearances for a national team, their names frequently top the charts.

Consistent Contenders

As mentioned, they’re consistently in discussions about top accolades. Their goal-scoring feats, game-changing assists, or even defensive masterclasses keep them in the spotlight season after season.

Qualities of a Soccer GOAT

Soccer GOAT Contenders

Pelé: The King of Football

Pelé’s impact on soccer is vast and enduring. He became the only player to lift the FIFA World Cup three times, with victories in 1958, 1962, and 1970. This feat has not been matched by any player to date.

With over 1,000 career goals, Pelé’s scoring record is the stuff of legends. His incredible ability to find the back of the net made him a global icon and set a benchmark for future forwards.

“The greatest player in history was Di Stefano. I refuse to classify Pelé as a player. He was above that.”

Ferenc Puskas on Pelé

Even after hanging up his boots, Pelé’s name remains synonymous with soccer excellence. His flair, skill, and love for the game have inspired countless players, coaches, and fans around the world.

Diego Maradona: The Argentine Magician

The 1986 World Cup saw Maradona at his finest. His “Hand of God” goal and the subsequent “Goal of the Century” against England in the same match are perhaps the most discussed moments in World Cup history.

While Maradona’s international exploits are well-known, he also dazzled at club level, most notably with Napoli. He led the Italian side to two Serie A titles, solidifying his legendary status in Naples.

Beyond his footballing prowess, Maradona became a symbol of hope and rebellion in his home country, representing the fight against adversity and the spirit of the Argentine people.

Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo: The Modern Rivalry

Messi: The Magician from Rosario

Lionel Messi, with his impeccable dribbling, vision, and goal-scoring prowess, has mesmerized fans worldwide. His masterclass in matches, such as those in Los Angeles, highlights his ability to change the course of a game single-handedly.

Ronaldo: The Portuguese Prodigy

Cristiano Ronaldo is the epitome of dedication and hard work. Known for his incredible athleticism, powerful shots, and knack for crucial goals, he has shone in matches like the seven-goal thriller, showcasing his never-say-die attitude.

Endless Comparisons

Both players, with their individual brilliance, have redefined records and set new standards. As a result, the Messi-Ronaldo debate has become an integral part of soccer discourse, with fans and pundits alike weighing in on who the GOAT truly is.

Soccer GOAT Contenders

Other Legends of the Game

Johan Cruyff: Total Football’s Torchbearer

Cruyff’s contribution to soccer is unparalleled, both as a player and as a coach. His philosophy of “Total Football” changed the way teams approached the game, emphasizing fluidity and positional play.

Zinedine Zidane: The French Maestro

Zidane’s elegance on the ball was a sight to behold. Known for his deft touches and iconic volleys, Zidane’s crowning moment came in the 1998 World Cup, where he led France to their first-ever title.

The Pantheon of Greats

While the aforementioned names are just a few, the list of soccer legends is vast. Players like Alfredo Di Stéfano, George Best, and Michel Platini, among others, have all left indelible marks on the sport, each bringing their unique flair and genius to the beautiful game.

Who’s The GOAT In Football According to Math?

In an attempt to settle the debate over football’s greatest of all time (GOAT), Dr. Tom Crawford, a mathematician from the University of Oxford, developed an algorithm to assess legends from different eras.

The criteria involved seven categories, including domestic and international honors, goals scored at club and international levels, Ballon d’Or votes received, individual records, and ‘Z-Factor’ seasons, where the player’s goals led their team to significant victories.

After evaluating players based on these criteria, Cristiano Ronaldo emerged as the GOAT in football, finishing ahead of Lionel Messi, Pelé, Maradona, and other soccer greats.

Dr. Crawford acknowledged that while Ronaldo topped the list through his formula, the achievements of all considered players are remarkable, and the GOAT debate is likely to persist.

The Debate: Messi vs. Ronaldo

A Detailed Comparison of Their Careers

Early Beginnings

While both players hail from the Iberian Peninsula, their starting points differ greatly. Messi’s journey began at Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina before moving to FC Barcelona’s famous youth academy, La Masia.

Ronaldo, on the other hand, started at Sporting Lisbon in Portugal before making his move to the Premier League with Manchester United.

Club Dominance

Messi, often seen as a one-club man, gave his prime years to FC Barcelona, leading them to numerous La Liga and UEFA Champions League titles. His connection with the Catalan club is legendary.

Ronaldo, in contrast, showcased his adaptability by dominating in three of the top European leagues. His time at Manchester United, Real Madrid CF, and Juventus FC demonstrates his versatility and ability to shine in different playing environments.

8⭐FIFA Ballon d’Or5
3UEFA Footballer of the Year/Best Player4⭐
6⭐European Golden Shoe4
4Champions League5⭐
12⭐League Titles7
7⭐Domestic Cup6
9⭐Domestic Super Cup7
3UEFA Super Cup3
3Club World Cup4⭐
1Other Official Club Titles1
3⭐Full Senior International2
2⭐Other Official International0
Statistical Data from messivsronaldo.app as at 31/10/2023

International Achievements

Messi’s journey with Argentina witnessed a mix of highs and lows. For years, he faced criticism for not delivering a senior international trophy for his nation.

This narrative, however, changed when he lifted the Copa America in 2021 and most famously the World Cup in 2022, ending Argentina’s long wait for silverware.

Ronaldo, representing Portugal, tasted international success earlier when his team triumphed in the UEFA Euro 2016 and later in the 2019 UEFA Nations League.

Statistical Analysis

Goal Machines

Both Messi and Ronaldo have an astonishing goal-scoring record. While their tallies might be neck-and-neck, the nature of their goals – from free-kicks to last-minute winners – adds layers to the debate.

Assists and Playmaking

Messi, known for his vision and dribbling ability, boasts a high assist count, often setting up his teammates with sublime passes.

Ronaldo, while primarily a finisher, has also provided key assists throughout his career, showcasing his all-around ability.

MessiAll Time StatsRonaldo
65⭐Free-Kick Goals61
0.79⭐Goals per Game0.72
72.6⭐Minutes per Goal/Assist87.5
Statistical Data from messivsronaldo.app as at 31/10/2023

Personal Achievements

Individual Awards

While Messi has secured multiple Ballon d’Or titles, vouching for his status as the most decorated player of all time, Ronaldo’s collection is equally illustrious.

His awards, like the 2023 Arab Club Champions Cup Golden Boot, underline his continuous contribution to the sport even in the twilight of his career.

Moments of Brilliance

Both players have iconic moments that define their greatness. From Messi’s mesmerizing solo goals to Ronaldo’s gravity-defying headers, these instances are etched in soccer history.

Off-field Impact

Beyond their on-field heroics, both players have left a mark off the field. Their philanthropic efforts, brand endorsements, and influence on popular culture further amplify their legendary statuses.

Messi vs. Ronaldo

The Subjectivity in the FOOTBALL GOAT Debate

The Influence of Personal Biases

Every individual’s perception of greatness is influenced by their experiences, emotions, and memories.

A person who has grown up watching Messi’s magic at Camp Nou week in and week out would naturally have a deep-seated admiration for the Argentine maestro.

On the other hand, a Real Madrid supporter who has witnessed Ronaldo’s clutch goals in crucial moments is likely to hold the Portuguese star in higher regard.

Furthermore, factors such as nationality, childhood idols, and personal encounters with the players can sway opinions.

Regional and Generational Factors

Geographical and temporal contexts significantly influence the GOAT debate. In Brazil, the name Pelé might be synonymous with footballing greatness due to his incredible feats during the golden era of Brazilian football.

Similarly, in Argentina, while Messi is revered, the legend of Maradona, especially his 1986 World Cup heroics, holds a unique place in their collective memory.

Generationally, older fans who lived through the eras of Pelé, George Best, or Alfredo Di Stéfano would have a different perspective than those who have come of age watching Messi and Ronaldo battle it out in El Clásicos.

The Problem with Comparing Across Eras

Comparing players across different eras is akin to comparing apples and oranges. The game of soccer has witnessed dramatic changes over the decades.

In the 60s and 70s, the pitches were often muddy, making dribbling a more daunting task than today. The footballs used in Pelé’s era were heavier, making the techniques different.

Tactics have evolved as well, with shifts from 2-3-5 formations to the predominant 4-3-3s and 4-2-3-1s of today. The role of nutrition, sports science, and technology in modern football has changed the way players train, recover, and prepare.

Hence, it’s inherently challenging to determine how Maradona, for instance, would fare in a modern Champions League match or how Messi would’ve performed in the rough and tumble English leagues of the 70s.


Choosing the GOAT in football is a blend of personal memories, intense emotions, and regional loyalties. It goes beyond numbers and accolades, touching upon moments that resonate deeply with fans worldwide.

Each legend, from Maradona to Messi, has crafted unforgettable moments on the pitch, emphasizing soccer’s universal appeal and the magic it brings to billions.

Join the conversation, who’s your GOAT in football (soccer)? Let us know who and why.


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