In the twenty-first century, who scored the most goals in a calendar year?


Since the turn of the century, there has been a bevy of prolific goalscorers who have graced the game.

The 2000s saw the likes of Thierry Henry, Michael Owen and Ruud van Nistelrooy run riot. Towards the end of the decade, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi emerged on the scene.

While the duo are still going strong despite being on the wrong side of 30, there have been a few other prolific goalscorers to have emerged in the last decade. Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku have consistently scored goals aplenty. More recently, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Braut Haaland have also proved themselves to be fantastic goalscorers.

Considering the attacking talent on offer over the last two decades, there have been many memorable calendar-year performances in this period. On that note, let’s take a look at the ten most prolific single-year goalscoring performances by a player since the turn of the century. The tally includes goals scored for both club and country during the year.

Without further ado, let’s get started:

#10 Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich/Poland) – 54 goals (2019)

Robert Lewandowski for Bayern Munich
Robert Lewandowski for Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski has been on a tear, especially for Bayern Munich, in the last few seasons, scoring at least 40 goals in all competitions. Last season, the Pole scored 41 goals to break Gerd Muller’s record for most goals in a Bundesliga season en route to 48 strikes for the season.

In terms of calendar-year performances, Lewandowski’s most prolific goalscoring year was 2019, as he scored 54 goals from 58 games. After a strong end to his 2018-19 campaign, the Pole began the 2019-20 season like a house on fire. He became the first player to score in the first 11 Bundesliga games of a season.

In the Champions League, Lewandowski scored ten goals in five group-stage games, including the quickest-ever quadruple in the competition’s history. He also scored six goals for Poland, including a hat-trick against Latvia, in their successful Euro 2020 qualification campaign.

The 2021-22 season is yet to start, but Lewandowski has already scored 47 goals for the year, the most by any player. He looks set for the most prolific year of his illustrious career yet.

#9 Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur/England) – 56 goals (2017)

Harry Kane for Tottenham
Harry Kane for Tottenham

Harry Kane had a memorable scoring year in 2017. He started the year by scoring 21 goals in the second half of the 2016-17 Premier League. Kane registered four hat-tricks, two of them coming in the last two games of the season.

After ending the campaign with 29 league goals, Kane would go one better the next campaign. He closed the first half of the 2017-18 season with 18 goals. His hat-trick against Southampton – sixth in the league in 2017 – meant Kane broke Alan Shearer’s record for most Premier League goals in a year.

In the process, Kane, who also scored six goals for England during the year, overtook a certain Lionel Messi to emerge as the top scorer of the year.

Kane said after breaking Shearer’s record:

“It’s been a fantastic year. It is always about improving every year. That’s what I always have done throughout my career and it is what I will continue to do.”

The Englishman ended the season with a career-best tally of 30 goals. But despite Kane’s exploits, Tottenham Hotspur finished a whopping 23 points off champions Manchester City.

#8 Cristiano Ronaldo – 57 goals (2015)

Cristiano Ronaldo for Real Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo for Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo had a memorable year in 2015, amassing 57 goals in as many games for club and country. All but three of these strikes came for his then club Real Madrid.

Ronaldo scored 20 goals in the second half of the 2014-15 La Liga season. He netted four hat-tricks, including three in his last four games of the campaign and a five-goal outing against Granada. He also scored five goals in the Champions League knockout stage, but Real Madrid’s title defense ended against Juventus in the semi-finals.

The Portuguese started the 2015-16 season on fire, hitting two hat-tricks, including a four-goal outing. It set up a fantastic goalscoring campaign as Ronaldo scored 11 group-stage goals in the Champions League.

In La Liga, Ronaldo made an uncharacteristically slow start, failing to score in six games either side of a five-goal outing against Espanyol. But he soon picked up the pace to move to 14 league goals at the halfway mark. The Portuguese also scored a hat-trick for Portugal.

Unfortunately, despite the Portuguese tallying 50 goals in a calendar for the fourth-straight year, Real Madrid failed to win La Liga or the Champions League.

#7 Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Argentina) – 59 goals (2016)

Lionel Messi for Barcelona
Lionel Messi for Barcelona

Lionel Messi enjoyed another goal-rich year in 2016. The Argentine started the year by amassing 20 league goals as Barcelona successfully defended their La Liga title. But despite Messi scoring five times in the Champions League knockout stage, Barcelona’s title defense ended against Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals.

After missing the first three league games of the new season due to injury, Messi had managed 12 La Liga goals in the first half of the season. But it was in the Champions League, where he truly dazzled. He hit hat-tricks against Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City en route to ten goals in six group-stage games. Those were also his sixth and seventh hat-tricks in the competition.

During the year, Messi also scored a Copa del Rey hat-trick and one against Panama in the Copa America Centenario in the USA. But Argentina endured shootout heartbreak against Chile in their second-consecutive Copa final. This prompted a heartbroken Messi to announce his international retirement, a decision he would soon rescind.

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