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It’s pretty clear at this stage in football that it’s the strikers who gain most of the glory more often than not. To be fair to the goalscorers of the team, it really is their only job to find the back of the net, but have they ever taken a second to think about just how difficult their lives would be without those feeding them the ball?
Where would Lionel Messi be without the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta or Dani Alves? Probably still at the top of all the goalscoring charts season after season, but perhaps not as far as ahead as he has been. The point still stands, however, that those eventually finding the net simply couldn’t do it without someone supplying that killer pass, or that ingenious piece of play. But who has the most assists in football history?
Legends of old
Of course, like many other football stats out there, it’s hard to come up with a complete argument for the leaders in their respective fields, given the fact that certain statistics only started being recorded in these latter years of the sport. A large group of former heroes, therefore, sadly will never have their goals, assists, clean sheets and the like on record, simply because the technology and manpower weren’t around in the very early stages of the beautiful game. Perhaps it didn’t even matter back then, but it certainly does now, with modern-day football very much a numbers game.
So, who then would lead the way from generations gone by in terms of the most assists in football history? Just like their contemporary equivalents, here are some former legends who would more than likely be at the top end of the assists leaderboard:
- Diego Maradona
- George Best
- Johan Cruyff
- Michel Platini
They would undoubtedly be right up there when it comes to the most assists in football history.
Modern-day assist kings
But of course, while certain clubs and fans often look back at the golden years, football is very much about the present. The current assist kings still remain at the very top of their game, and will be key once again for the upcoming season when supplying their teammates with the perfect pass. So, who has the most assists in football history? Taking the most recent statistics into account – with some assist figures inevitably off by one or two, depending on how indeed an assist is exactly defined – we take a look at the top five.
Who has the most assists in football history?
*correct as of 10 September 2023
5. Cristiano Ronaldo – 273 assists
To the youth of today, Cristiano Ronaldo is known purely as a selfish, goal-obsessed poacher who spends the majority of his time in the penalty box. While this description is vaguely true based on his past five seasons or so, many are quick to forget that Ronaldo was once a winger who was responsible for providing for others, in addition to chipping in with goals himself.
It wasn’t until a serious knee injury in 2014 that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner had to completely change his game. After this injury, Ronaldo became a center-forward and continued, for a couple of years at least, to score at similar rates to before his assists numbers certainly tailed off.
The fact he has 268 assists alongside his 834 goals is mind-bogglingly good when you sit back and think about it. A true great of the game and second only to Lionel Messi in the all-time debates.
4. Angel di Maria – 279 assists
Angel di Maria has been all over Europe in his career, from Benfica to Juventus with pitstops at Real Madrid, Manchester United and PSG along the way. In fact, there probably isn’t a player in football history who has worn so many famous jerseys throughout their career.
The benefit of playing for so many great clubs is the fact that you are likely to play alongside many great players. In di Maria’s case, he has provided goals for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema. And that is before you remember he is Argentinian so has played alongside Messi now for well over a decade.
3. Luis Suarez – 292 assists
Controversy has followed Luis Suarez around everywhere he has been in his career from biting incidents and deliberate handballs to accusations of racism. Despite all of that, he has managed to forge out a highly successful career at the highest level.
He is widely regarded as one of the best centre forward’s of all time and was part of the famous MSN forward line at Barcelona alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar. The three of them terrorised defences all over Spain and Europe for several seasons in the mid 2010s with Suarez the focal point.
Playing with Messi and Neymar either side of him also meant that Suarez often found himself playing the two of them in from a deeper position with the Uruguayan being adept at dropping deep to collect the ball from the midfield. Elsewehere, he has played for Liverpool and Atletico Madrid where he enjoyed partnerships with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Diego Costa.
2. Thomas Muller – 298 assists
Thomas Muller may well be the most underrated forward of all time. Often overlooked due to his mediocre goal tally across all competitions, the German forward has enjoyed a ridiculously successful career and conquered the world with Germany in 2014.
On the face of it, Muller doesn’t possess any breathtaking qualities – he isn’t fast, skillful or an expert finisher. But what he does have is a great work ethic and an eye for a pass. He is the ultimate football brain which is why every manager he has played under has waxed lyrical about him.
To be second on the all-time assists list is certainly something that shouldn’t be sniffed at and he should break the 300 mark in the coming seasons.
1. Lionel Messi – 398 assists
Through the good, the bad, and the ugly at Barcelona, there has been one constant, and that is Lionel Messi. His wand of a left foot has been adored for many years now by the world over, with fans – both young and old – well aware of just how talented the Argentinian really is. Whether it be dribbling in and out of defences and supplying a subtle pass, lofting a delicate through ball over the top, heading it towards a fellow forward, or whipping a cross into the box, there really isn’t anything Messi cannot do when it comes to creating chances.
The aforementioned MSN link up with Suarez and Neymar won’t be forgotten in a hurry, with Messi twisting and turning in and around the box before either unleashing an unstoppable strike of his own, or putting the ball on a plate for his beloved Barca teammates. It’s fair to say the Catalan club simply would not have won all they have in modern football without their superstar, and he is now enjoying life in Paris with Kylian Mbappe.
To be over 100 assists clear of second place is simply obscene and when you factor in his 803 goals, there really is no doubting who football’s greatest of all time truly is.
Most assists in football history – key numbers
21 – Assists for Lionel Messi (La Liga) and Thomas Muller (Bundesliga), the most recorded in a given competition in a single season
42 – Champions League assists for Cristiano Ronaldo, the most of all-time
8 – World Cup assists for Pele, the most in World Cup history
8 – European Championship assists for Karel Poborsky, the most in Euros history
162 – Premier League assists for Ryan Giggs, the most in Premier League history. Kevin de Bruyne is closing in, though, and could break the record if he continues at his average of 13 assists a season until 2027.
2017/18 – Season in which the Premier League introduced the Playmaker of the Season award for the player with most assists
17 – Copa America assists for Lionel Messi, the most of all-time
9 – Assists for Liverpool’s James Milner in the 2017/18 Champions League, the most in a single season in the competition.
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