Who is the Best Goal Scorer in Premier League History? Let’s settle this…

Premier League
Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, Premier League, Total goals, average goals
Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, goals scored, goals to game ratio, career goals
Career Premier League goals (as of 19/06/2020)

It irks me when folks point to statistics like the above to prove who the best PL goal scorer in history is. If one had to draw conclusions from it, you would say that Aguero is the best goal scorer because he has the best goal/game ratio (or goal/min ratio). Some would say Shearer for having the most goals – but this logic & these metrics are fallible when considered out of context. I will explain exactly why a bit further on.

Scope – The Case for the Greatest Forward/Striker

You will note how I specifically labelled this article the case for the best ‘Goal Scorer’ and not the best ‘Striker or Forward’.

To assess the latter, I would need to contemplate several statistics including assists, dribbling, passing etc. So, before I upset some of you (which I will inevitably do – but only in about 2 minutes time), this is not an analysis on the best striker or forward. Some would say Rooney was a great goal scorer and a great passer, some say that Henry was the most complete with his dribbling, passing and scoring ability etc. All of these are valid and could be very well crown them the greatest striker, but we will be nulling & voiding as many variables as possible to objectively analyse the best goal scorer.

What metrics NOT to use when comparing

As mentioned earlier, there are issues with using the goal/game ratio as well as absolute values as metrics to compare players’ goal scoring abilities, here are some of the reasons why:

  1. Goal/Game ratio doesn’t account for age differences as well as team differences. For example, Sergio Aguero (who has the best goal/game ratio) arrived in the Premier League relatively close to his prime at age 23. Players like Rooney, Shearer and Cole started playing in the Premier League (First Division pre 1992) when they were teenagers. Furthermore, Cole and Shearer were playing in the league until they were 34. It doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to understand that this would undoubtably skew this ratio against them, as many games were played outside of their prime years. You essentially are then comparing a goal/game ratio of Aguero in his prime years against Shearer’s, Cole’s & Rooney’s entire career – hardly fair.

  2. Absolute number of goals aren’t an appropriate metric either. People often visit the list of all-time scorers and thus conclude that Shearer is the greatest goal scorer the Premier League has seen. But this isn’t a reasonable foundation to draw conclusions from either, as it fails to consider two pertinent points:

    1. Firstly, it doesn’t consider the team the individual played in. If you watch football, playing in a better team drastically increases the amount of chances you get as a striker, which then drastically increases the percentage of probable goals – the two are directly correlated (it isn’t complicated). It has been 19 years since the PL top scorer has played in a team outside the top 4 (Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for Chelsea), and they still finished 6th that season. Furthermore, how common is it that league top scorers come from a bottom 6 side? It’s not a common occurrence, I’ll tell you that much.

      The point is, there are players who, I believe, were incredible goal scorers but just played in some relatively poor teams. Given the chances a striker would get at a better team, this could have significantly improved their goal scoring statistics.

    2. Secondly, and most obviously, players who played more games have a chance of scoring more goals. So, in this case, the likes of Shearer & Cole, who spent their entire career in sunny England should technically have more goals than players who only spent 5 years in the premier league.

We are then left with the question; how then, do we accurately and fairly compare these players? Let me give it my best shot…

Players selected & Methodology used

I have selected these 5 players for a few reasons. Most notably because they are normally the main subjects for debate in the ‘greatest goal scorers in Premier League history’. Coupled with this, they also are the top scoring strikers since the PL’s inception in 1992.

There are a few strikers (e.g. Luis Suarez) that were prominent, but unfortunately didn’t spend enough time in the Premier League to enter this debate. It therefore would become a ‘what if’ analysis.

I have also assessed them over 8 years (from the ages 21-28), as this was the least amount of time spent in the Premier League of the 5 of them. Thierry Henry joined Arsenal at 21 and left for FC Barcelona at 28. All other players have spent more than 8 years in the Prem. You will notice I have asterisks’ next to Aguero’s name on the graphs. This is because he only arrived in the Premier League at age 23, and thus we have compiled his statistics from ages 23-30.

The methodology I have used is the most critical part of this article. If you don’t understand this then the analysis won’t make any sense to you. It is exactly the same methodology I created for my Messi vs Ronaldo article. Enter the GAC (Goal Assist Contribution) Methodology. Please note, and as mentioned, we will only be considering goals and not assists.

Methodology (GAC):

I created this GAC methodology because it emphasises the importance of contribution of goals to a specific team as opposed to absolute values.

If I could explain it this way. Player A scores 40 goals out of his team’s 110 goals, and player B scores 27 goals out of his team’s 70 goals. Although player A scored 13 more goals in absolute terms, he was actually only a part of 36% of the team’s goals whereas player B was a part of 39% of his team’s goals. Player B is thus contributing more value and is statistically the better goal scorer.

Why this methodology is so effective in assessing performances, is it completely nullifies the impact the ‘team effect’ has on a player’s goal scoring figures. It all boils down to margins and it’s all about value of goals scored as opposed to absolute numbers.

In other words, even if a player is playing for a ‘weaker’ team, the players direct contribution to his team’s goals is what matters. A percentage evaluation of a player’s contribution allows them to be compared fairly with someone playing for a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ team.

Critically, I have also adjusted it for their minutes played in a season. So, for example, if Andy Cole only played 80% of the total minutes available that season, his contribution will only be measured up against 80% of the total team’s goals.

One could call this ‘total available team goals’, as it doesn’t measure up his goals against team goals scored when he was on the bench. We are therefore assessing his impact when actually playing on the pitch. This methodology accurately depicts the value of their goals in the context of the total available team goals.

Put differently, using minutes as opposed to appearances voids the effect of coming off the bench. For example, a player could come off the bench and play 3 minutes and most likely not score. This is then counted as a cap, and it adversely effects his goal/game ratio.

In conclusion, what this methodology does, is isolate the player by excluding the variables of the team played in and the games not started. When you isolate this statistic as far as possible, only then does it become comparable.

Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, Premier League finishes
Respective players average PL finish between the ages of 21-28. *23-30 for Aguero

To give you context, this table shows the respective players average league finish from the ages 21-28 (23-30 for Aguero). Cole won 5 titles in this period, Rooney & Aguero won 4, Henry won 2 and Shearer won 1. Furthermore, Shearer had 3 of the 8 comparative years, playing for a team that finished outside the top 10, which is why his average league finish is far lower in comparison. In conclusion, Shearer played for a weaker team and as a result, it is fair to assume he was given less opportunities to score which then directly impacts the amounts of goals he scored.

This is why contribution to total team goals whilst playing is the most accurate metric to compare by.

So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the data and compare who was on average the best goal scorer from the ages 21-28 (Aguero 23-30).

Contribution value of Goals Scored

Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, Premier League, Total goals, average goals
*Ages 23-30 for Aguero

Accordingly, from the ages 21-28, Alan Shearer has been contributing more goals to his team’s total goals in comparison to the other four. Shearer comes in at a whopping contribution rate of 42.1% of the goals, followed by Henry at 37.5%. What this is saying, in layman’s terms, is that from the ages of 21-28, whenever Shearer was on the pitch he was scoring 42.1% of his teams goals – this is remarkable. To break it down further, I have created a graph that shows their respective goal contribution at different ages (remember, Aguero’s comparison is between the ages 23-30).

Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, Premier League, Total goals, average goals
*Ages 23-30 for Aguero

Alan Shearer, clearly the dominant goal scorer here. He is contributing more to his team’s goals in 6 of the 8 compared years. The other two are split between Henry and Aguero.

The next item to be discussed is that of non-penalty goals. It is true that some of these players were the first point of call for their team when the ref pointed to the spot. As a result, a larger contribution of their goals came from penalties. For instance, in the comparative years, Alan Shearer scored a total of 33 penalties whereas Andy Cole only scored 1.

Let’s see what the goal contribution looks like once one removes the effect of penalty kicks.

Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, non-penalty goals average
*Ages 23-30 for Aguero

Even when isolating open-play goals, Shearer still comes out on top with a contribution rate of 34.4% which is followed up by Aguero at 31.5% – a slight reduction in Alan’s his lead. Once again, I have also broken this down year by year for comparison purposes.

Wayne Rooney, Alan Shearer, Andy Cole, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, non-penalty goals
*Ages 23-30 for Aguero

This one is slightly more evenly distributed with Shearer, Henry and Cole being more prolific in non-penalty goals in 2 years whilst Rooney & Aguero having 1 each.

In conclusion, and according to the data and methodology, Alan Shearer is thus the best goal scorer in Premier League history.

Fans from other clubs may be disgruntled with this, and if you happen to be one of them, please let me know your objections in the comments below and I’ll be sure to reply to them.

Thanks for reading!