World Football: Power Ranking the Top 10 Most Clinical Finishers
A clinical finisher does more than just score goals.
They find the back of the net, yes, but they do it with a certain ease—a level of composure that is unrivaled by so many of their peers. They don't just score, they do it with a smile on their face and a recognizable attitude that says "yes, that was as easy for me as I made it look."
Scoring a lot of goals, of course, is a fortunate by-product of that skill and attitude, but it's not the only inherent attribute that makes a goal-scorer clinical.
This list is a ranking of the top clinical finishers in World Football today, as determined by a combination of career achievements, recent form, and a certain degree of my own personal opinion.
Whether you agree with the rankings or not, there's no doubt that every name on this list constitutes some of the best talent in modern World Football history. Enjoy.
**Career statistic figures were derived from Wikipedia.org and ESPN when figures have been incomplete, not up-to-date, or unreliable. Both sites had competing figures in some cases, and in those scenarios I generally went with ESPN. Goal totals and appearance totals are a combination of professional club totals and international totals.
Honorable Mention: Neymar
Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior might be largely unproven thus far by European standards, but what we've seen thus far is extraordinary.
An exceptional young product of Santos FC's youth program, Neymar seems set to secure his position as the next figure in a long line of successful Brazilian footballers in Europe. At least that's what many are hoping.
Neymar won his first team debut in 2009 for Santos, and he has since scored 30 goals in 67 appearances. His most iconic performances to date, however, have come in his short tenure with the Brazilian national squad.
Fans of Brazil were furious to find out that Neymar had not been named to the 2010 World Cup roster. A petition even went out to convince Brazil boss, Dunga, to add him to the squad. It accumulated more than 14,000 signatures, but Dunga maintained his position that Neymar was far too untested to compete at the world's top competition.
Perhaps he should have rethought that position after all.
For Brazil's U-20 squad, Neymar has scored an outstanding nine goals in seven matches. And since being allowed to compete with the senior squad after the World Cup concluded, Neymar has recorded six goals for his country in his first 10 matches.
While there are still plenty of questions left for Neymar's potential future in Europe, and plenty of chapters left to be written in his story, Neymar seems destined to become either the most successful Brazilian in recent memory, or the biggest and most over-hyped European bust in Brazil's history.
If his success grows as rapidly as some of the other names on this list, the former option is almost a guarantee.
10. Luis Suárez
Luis Suárez may have yet to reach his full potential with Liverpool, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming one of the most effective goal-scorers in modern football during his short career—particularly in his time at Ajax.
Suarez started his professional career playing for Nacional of Uruguay's domestic league. He scored 10 goals in his first season and added a total of 15 to his resume before the Dutch side FC Groningen brought him to Europe.
In Eredivisie, Suarez began to slowly emerge as a striker that European clubs would be sure to keep tabs on. After his first Eredivisie season, he was transferred to the league's top side and would spend the next four years at Ajax.
In his first season with Ajax, Suarez would appear in 40 matches, netting 20 goals along the way. In the following seasons, Suarez scored a total of 81 league goals in 110 appearances and netted over a hundred times in all competitions. Ajax could hardly compete in a single match without their star striker finding the back of the net.
In the 2010 World Cup, Suarez played a key role in helping his squad reach the semifinal of the tournament (sometimes in more controversial ways than he intended). He also played a vital role in Uruguay's 2011 Copa America title.
In all, he has scored 21 times for his country.
9. Diego Milito
Diego Milito is obviously one name out of many on a long list of iconic Argentine strikers, and like many of those names, he started his career playing in the first division of his nation's domestic league for Racing Club de Avellaneda.
His first appearance for the club came in 1999 at age 19. While his on-field presence and scoring ability would eventually catch the eyes of Europe, he would not fully reach his potential until much later in his career.
In early 2004, the Italian side Genoa C.F.C. finalized arrangements for Milito's transfer, and he made his European debut. In 59 appearances for Genoa, Milito scored 33 goals, just one shy of his career total with Racing (in far less than half the number of matches). However, a match-fixing scandal caused Genoa to face relegation at the end of the 2004-05 campaign, and the club found themselves unable to afford such a prolific scoring presence any longer.
So Genoa sold Milito to Real Zaragoza of Spain, where he played three seasons and scored 53 goals. In 2006, Milito scored 23 goals, just two shy of the La Liga leader and three shy of the European Golden Boot winner for the season.
When Genoa won promotion back into Serie A, they went for what they already knew worked best, and they bought Milito once again. This time, he would score 24 goals in 31 league appearances, constituting an extraordinary goal-per-game figure of 0.77.
Milito has played for Inter Milan since 2009 and has averaged just under one goal per two appearances. Those numbers, however, have notably been skewed by his performance in the 2010-11 season, in which a muscle injury kept him off the pitch for much of the season and hampered his usually-prolific tally.
Without the injury, his goal totals would undoubtedly be even more clinical than the impressive figures he maintains with the club even now.
8. Antonio Di Natale
Last year's Serie A top goal-scorer, Udinese striker Antonio Di Natale left a mark on European football that made it impossible for me to leave him off this list.
A product of Empoli's youth academy, Di Natale has spent his entire professional career in Italy, playing for various Italian sides. He earned his first team start with Empoli in 1996 and was an integral aspect of their strategy for several years and making 148 appearances and scoring 48 goals.
Throughout his time with Empoli, he did receive several loan spells to other Italian sides, lending his services to Iperzola, Varese, and Viareggio at various periods throughout his contract. Particularly for Viareggio, Di Natale was a substantial and positive influence in scoring 12 times during his short stay.
In 2004, the Italian striker was transferred to Udinese, where he would play out the remainder of his career thus far. On top of being Serie A's top goal scorer in the last campaign and the one prior to that, Di Natale was also named 2010's Italian Footballer of the Year and has netted a total of 112 league goals for Udinese over the years.
7. Wayne Rooney
Wayne Rooney may not have the goal totals that some of the other players on this list carry, but he also competes in a league that's a bit more competitive than Serie A and La Liga, as well.
Having been born and raised in Liverpool, it's little wonder that the English legend is a product of Everton's youth system.
In 2002, he graduated to Everton's first team squad, where he would play an important role for a couple of seasons. But his statistics never reached their full potential until he joined Manchester United in 2004, when he bought for the highest fee ever paid for a player younger than 20.
Though Rooney's role with United has been much more substantial than providing just a goal-scoring presence at forward, his numbers have added up in ways that are largely unrivaled amongst his Premier League peers.
Though Rooney struggled in the most recent season, he was the league's second highest goal scorer in 2009-10, just finishing behind Didier Drogba.
On England's national squad, he also made a name for himself in netting 26 goals in 70 appearances.
His totals might seem a bit lacking in some areas, but Rooney's strength comes from his unrivaled accuracy as a marksman more than his goal totals throughout his career. Specifically, Rooney takes few shots and scores many goals, giving him one of the best ratios of goals-to-shots in the world today.
At the rate he's going, his hair might be diminishing at a record pace, but Wayne Rooney's goal totals are only going to get better.
6. Zlatan Ibrahimović
Born and raised in Sweden, Zlatan Ibrahimović began his professional career at age 17 in Allsvenskan, Sweden's domestic top-flight, for Malmö Fotbollförening.
He appeared 40 times for Malmö during his stay and found the back of the net 16 times. There have been more impressive figures than that over the years, but it was more than enough to get the attention of some more prolific sides.
When Malmö opted to put Ibrahimović on the transfer market, he got much more attention than he ever anticipated. After declining an attempt from Arsene Wenger to land the striker for Arsenal, Ibrahimović opted to play for Ajax instead.
With Ajax, Ibrahimović first tasted victory as the club won the Eredivisie title during his first year. Though he left much to be desired in his Champions League campaigns with the Dutch side, Ibrahimović still scored 35 goals in 74 appearances with Ajax and left his mark as immediately visible as anyone could ever hope.
Following Ajax, the Swede moved on to the Italian side Juventus, where he spent two seasons before ending up at Inter Milan. In his first match with Inter, Ibrahimović scored one goal and provided another assist. He would be the club's top goal scorer for the season, helping Inter win the Serie A title for the first time in seventeen years.
In total for Inter Milan, he scored 57 times in 88 appearances, averaging one goal in every 1.5 matches.
While there have been other impressive club-level statistics achieved by Ibrahimović in his career—most notably of which would be his one goal per two matches on loan at A.C. Milan from Barcelona—much of Ibrahimović's personal pride is derived from his International experience.
In 67 appearances for Sweden, he has scored 28 times, which even includes an International scoring dry-spell that lasted nearly two years.
5. Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba's 2010-11 season may not have matched up to his Golden Boot winning campaign of the year prior, but that doesn't mean that Drogba is any less of a clinical finisher or prolific figure in Chelsea's history.
Drogba began his professional career in France for Le Mans FC in 1998 and made a number of first team appearances until he was sold in 2002. He went on to play one season for Guingamp and one for Marseille, scoring 20 and 19 goals for the French sides respectively.
In 2004, he made the move that would define his career in a transfer agreement with Chelsea. His breakout season came in 2006-07, when he led the league in goals. In 2009-10, he led the league in goals again (with 29), which played a vastly important role in Chelsea's Premier League title campaign.
In total with Chelsea, Drogba has scored 95 times in 202 appearances. But his club-level performances are far from his only, or most impressive, achievements.
In 75 appearances for the Ivory Coast national squad, Drogba has found the back of the net more than 50 times, and his helped his country reach multiple African Cup of Nations finals and has aided them through two World Cup appearances.
Some have wondered if, at this point, Drogba has peaked and thus begun the steady decline that comes inevitably with age. This may be the case with his tenure at Chelsea, but for his home nation of Côte d'Ivoire, he is surely to continue to be a force to be reckoned with.
4. Samuel Eto'o
Cameroon's all-time leading goal-scorer, Samuel Eto'o has established himself as one of the most fearsome presences on some of Europe's most iconic clubs, including Barcelona and Inter Milan.
But first, Eto'o began his career at Real Madrid.
Beginning his professional life at such an early age, Samuel Eto'o was ineligible to play for Madrid's first team (though they wouldn't have been likely to field such an unproven youngster anyway). Instead, they gave him a shot on their reserve squad, before loaning him out to various Spanish sides.
In three years of loan periods, Eto'o's future was largely uncertain. He found the back of the net nine times, and nobody could possible know what kind of presence he would have in the years to come.
After his loan spell with Mallorca, however, they decided to give him a real shot and bought him outright from Madrid. Eto'o would spend the next four years with the Spanish side, scoring 54 goals in 133 appearances (becoming the club's all-time domestic goal scorer), and catching the attention Barcelona in the process.
It was when Eto'o joined the Spanish giants that he really began to shine. In five years with Barcelona, he scored well over 100 times, and even broke the 100-goal barrier for domestic play. All in just 145 appearances.
Upon joining Inter Milan, he remained at the top of his game, scoring just under one goal in every two matches. His presence played a key role in helping the Italian side win the Serie A, Champions League and Coppa Italia treble in 2010.
3. David Villa
When David Villa first started his career, he was told by the Spanish side Real Oviedo that he lacked potential because he was too short. Boy, do they wish they could have that statement back.
Instead, Real Sporting de Gijón opted to give him a chance on their reserve team in Segunda División B. Two seasons and 25 goals later, Villa had earned his first-team opportunity.
His new manager with Sporting first thought Villa to be lacking in stamina, but he eventually hailed his work ethic as unrivaled in Spanish football. With the first team squad, Villa earned far more appearances over two season than he had in the lower division, turning 38 goals in 80 appearances.
David Villa would spend his career slowly moving up the La Liga table as he bounced from Spanish club to Spanish club before finally reaching the top with Barcelona. His next stop after Sporting de Gijón was Real Zaragoza, where he spent another two seasons.
He left his mark with them as well, helping them win the 2004 Copa del Rey against Real Madrid, scoring 32 times in 73 appearances.
In 2005, Villa really began to make a name for himself as a top-notch clinical finisher. In that year, two major events took place in his career: He was sold to Valencia, and he earned his first cap with the Spanish National Squad. His quality of play for both sides would define his career.
With Valencia, David Villa tasted success yet again, winning yet another Copa del Rey, and earning his debut in Champions League. In his first year with the club, Villa recorded the highest goal tally for Valencia in 60 years. In five total seasons, he scored 108 times in 166 appearances.
For Spain, Villa's presence has been just as important. He currently holds the Spanish record for most goals scored in World Cup play and has earned 75 appearances for his country. In that time, he has scored 47 goals, showing that it's not just club-level play in which he can be a dominating force in offensive production.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
A product of the youth system at Sporting CP of Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo has earned his reputation as both a Manchester United legend and one of the greatest clinical finishers in modern history.
In his debut match for Sporting, he scored two goals to help his side to victory. It wouldn't take long before England's behemoth club took notice, as Ronaldo's club took the field against Manchester United and defeated them 3-1 in 2003. His performance in the match caused United players to urge Alex Ferguson to purchase the young Portuguese striker, and Ferguson agreed.
In his first season with United, Ronaldo scored four times. But then again, he only started 14 matches, as he was still largely unproven and Ferguson was still approaching his signing with caution. The following two seasons, he scored nine and twelve goals respectively in all competitions.
It wasn't until the 2006-07 campaign that Cristiano Ronaldo really broke out as a remarkably skillful scoring option. In that season, he emerged as Ferguson's top choice for a starting role and rewarded the decision with 17 league goals and 26 in all competitions. He also became only the third player in Premier League to earn consecutive Player of the Month awards.
The next year, he began to accumulate more prestigious honors, earning the PFA Players' Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year awards, the PFA Fans' Player of the Year award, and was named to Premier League Team of the Year. It was all for good reason, as he had by far outscored every other Premier League player (with 31 goals) and 43 goals in all competitions.
When Manchester United sold Ronaldo to Real Madrid for an incredible fee, he made his mark there as well. He scored 26 league goals in his first season with his new club and was by far the top league goal scorer in last year's campaign, with 40. Even Lionel Messi trailed behind him by an astonishing nine league goals, with 31.
1. Lionel Messi
At some point you have to wonder: what is it about Argentina and scoring goals?
Often compared to Argentine legend Diego Maradona and believed by many to be the greatest active footballer in the world, Lionel Messi has certainly managed to make a name for himself. And for very good reason.
In his professional career, Messi has been a one-club man, having been scouted by Barcelona at a very young age and joining their youth program before even reaching his teenage years. His family was happy to make the move, as the young Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at age 11, and Barcelona were more than willing to pay for his treatment.
Messi was 16 when he made his debut for Barcelona in a friendly match, but he wouldn't earn a starting spot on the squad until he was 17. When he did, he became the third youngest player to play for Barcelona in their history.
By 18, the club already had him competing in Champions League football.
It wasn't until 2006 that Lionel Messi really established himself as a regular starter for Barcelona, but he made it count when he did. In the 2006-07, he scored 14 times in 26 matches.
In 2008-09, Messi really began to reach his potential. He scored a remarkable nine goals for Barcelona in Champions League that year, and 23 in league play. His presence played a vital role in helping his side complete the coveted treble, winning the domestic league, Champions League, and the Copa del Rey in one season.
The next year, Messi scored the most league goals of his career thus far, with 34. In all competitions, including eight Champions League goals in 2009-10, he found the back of the net 49 times, helping to earn him the coveted FIFA Ballon d'Or. And in the most previously season, he even topped him totals by two goals. Though he scored fewer in league play, twelve Champions League goals helped to make up the difference.
In total, Lionel Messi has scored 142 goals in 259 appearances. That's more than many attacking players will score in their entire careers. And that, my friends, was all before his 24th birthday.