Check out the 10 highest goalscorers at the age of 21 for both club and country throughout football history.
From Pele to Cristiano Ronaldo, football has always been full of formidable goalscorers. These guys are often the difference-makers, capable of deciding the outcome of a match with just one touch of the ball. Therefore, everyone is always on the lookout for the next great star.
One way to tell if a young striker has it in him to rival these greats is by looking at his stats. While it may be a little unfair to judge him on this alone, it’s still a great indicator on where he may stand compared to the legends.
After all, it will take something beyond special to match Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s stats over the last decade.
So here on Ronaldo.com, we give you the top 10 highest goalscorers at the age of 21
10. Thierry Henry – 31 goals in 134 games
Henry began his career at AS Monaco, making his senior debut in August 1994 against Nice.
The Frenchman, who started out as a winger, scored his first senior goal in a 6-0 win over Lens in his fifth Ligue 1 appearance. He eventually finished with 28 career goals for Monaco.
Henry’s performances won him a call-up to the France senior team. He famously scored three times in the 1998 World Cup to help Les Bleus win the tournament just a month before his 21st birthday.
9. Cristiano Ronaldo – 36 goals in 182 games
As one of the greatest goalscorers of all-time, Ronaldo will always be on any list regarding goals scored.
Like Henry, Ronaldo began his career down the flanks. Sporting CP made good use of the skilful and pacey winger, who literally destroyed Manchester United in a friendly in 2003.
After scoring five goals for Sporting, the 18-year-old joined Manchester United for €19m. His best season at 21 years old or under was 2005/06, where he managed nine goals and seven assists in 33 Premier League games.
8. Lionel Messi – 51 goals in 140 games
Sitting one spot above Ronaldo is long-time rival Lionel Messi.
The Argentine emerged in the mid-2000s in a Ronaldinho-inspired Barcelona. His first Blaugrana goal came against Albacete in May 2005, which paved the way for many more goals.
Upon reaching the age of 21, Messi had passed the half-century mark of goals for club and country.
7. Karim Benzema – 62 goals in 143 games
After getting his first taste of senior football in 2005, Benzema quickly became a Lyon regular. And his tally in 2007/08 was truly remarkable.
The striker managed 31 goals and 10 assists in 52 matches across all competitions for Lyon. Not even Manchester United’s defence could keep him at bay. Therefore, Real Madrid came calling in the summer of 2009.
6. Wayne Rooney – 66 goals in 212 games
Rooney emerged as a 16-year-old in 2002, scoring a sensational winner against defending Premier League champions Arsenal in October that year.
The forward later rose to stardom by starring for England in Euro 2004, where he scored four goals in as many matches. This led Manchester United to sign him for €37m, making him the world’s most expensive teenager. A debut hat-trick against Fenerbahce proved his class.
Rooney eventually finished as the Red Devils’ all-time record goalscorer on 253 goals in 559 appearances.
5. Michael Owen – 76 goals in 156 games
Owen quickly rose through the Liverpool youth ranks to begin his senior career in 1996. He scored his first goal a year later on his debut against Wimbledon, paving the way for many to follow.
The teenager was incredible early in his career, finishing as the Premier League’s joint-top goalscorer on 18 goals in his first full season in 1997/98. He went on to impress in the World Cup for England.
Despite winning the Ballon d’Or in 2001, injuries ruined Owen. They caused him to miss a huge chunk of matches later in his career, eventually leading him to his retirement.
4. Sergio Aguero – 84 goals in 213 games
Manchester City’s record goalscorer started out at Independiente in his native Argentina. In fact, he became the Primera Division’s youngest debutant at 15 years and 35 days old in July 2003.
Aguero’s strong performances eventually led to a €23m transfer to Atletico Madrid in 2006. He quickly proved himself in Spain, scoring 27 goals in 50 matches in 2007/08. A Don Balon award, Tuttosport’s Golden Boy and the World Soccer Young Player of the Year all came his way.
3. Kylian Mbappe – 116 goals in 199 games
While most 21-year-old players are still working their way up to a regular spot in their respective clubs, Kylian Mbappe has already reached the pinnacle of football with PSG and France.
The youngster is already a World Cup winner, with a glittering haul of domestic silverware. In fact, he’s won Ligue 1 for the last four seasons and again collected the Golden Boot for this term.
Mbappe is also the quickest of any active goalscorers to reach the 100-goal mark.
2. Neymar – 140 goals in 227 game
Neymar began his career at Santos before sealing an €88.20m transfer to Barcelona in 2013 at the age of 21. By then, he managed 70 goals and 35 assists in 134 club games.
The forward was already a member of the Brazilian national team and enjoyed a successful four years at Camp Nou.
Neymar won La Liga twice and the highly coveted Champions League. Two third-place finishes in the Ballon d’Or also came because of his performances in Catalonia.
1. Ronaldo Nazario – 167 goals in 185 games
Finishing top as the greatest U-21 goalscorer is Ronaldo Nazario.
‘O Fenômeno’ (The Phenomenon) burst onto the scene as a 16-year-old in 1992, scoring an incredible 44 goals in just 47 outings for Cruzeiro. It won him a spot in Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning squad.
Ronaldo later joined PSV Eindhoven, which arguably set him on track to become one of the greatest players of all-time. He later enjoyed some mind-blowing spells at Barcelona and Inter Milan before injuries ravaged his career.