Lewandowski & Luis Suarez, Greatest Strikers of All Time?

02/27/2021

I had a thought recently. Who is the best striker of all time? Outside of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who have far exceeded the previous boundaries we thought possible, which player can be considered the greatest goal scorer of all time? Like a true number 9, who banged in goal after goal, season after season. While analyzing goals, assists, accolades, and all of the above, two names came to mind, Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez.

My main criteria for determining the best striker of all time was simple. Which player would you rather have over ten years? That way, durability is rewarded, as is sustained excellence. No one season wonders. Because after all, what good is a goal scorer if they can't do it for you year after year.

I'm not only here to argue that Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez are the two greatest strikers in history. But also help you reach a verdict as to which of the two is better.

The two have had eerily similar careers, to the point where it seems fake.


Exhibit A:

  • Luis Suarez has played in 488 career league games, scoring 333 goals.
  • Robert Lewandowski has played in 487 career league games, scoring 336 goals.

Exhibit B:

  • Despite playing for two different countries, on two different continents, both Lewandowski and Suarez have played in an identical 116 international games, with an identical 63 goals.

Exhibit C:

  • Both players have won league trophies for three different clubs.

Exhibit D:

  • In the summer of 2014, both players signed for a new club and proceeded to score the same amount of goals in the 2014/15 season. Lewandowski with 25 for Bayern Munich, and Luis Suarez with 25 goals for Barcelona.

With all of that said, let's get to the meat of the discussion.


The Case for Robert Lewandowski

The case for Robert Lewandowski lies in the fact that he is a slightly more prolific goal scorer than Luis Suarez. Despite their similar league records, in all competitions, Lewandowski starts to exhibit a gap in proficiency.

One particular highlight is the incredible achievement of 5 goals in 9 minutes versus Wolfsburg.

His 531 goals for club and country exceed Suarez's 497 by 34 goals, even though Suarez has played in 15 more career games. And when you subtract penalties, Lewandowski with 58 and Suarez with 47, Lewandowski still leads the career goals count by 23 goals.

Twenty-three goals is a small margin to separate these two. But with the best of the best, every inch matters.

The second advantage is success in the Champions League. Lewandowski has led two different clubs to the champions league final, winning one.

The most famous has to be for Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of the 2013 Champions League Semi-Final. Lewandowski scored four goals in the home game to single-handedly beat Real Madrid 4-1. Despite losing 2-0 in the second leg, Dortmund went through to the final, where they lost to rivals Bayern Munich.

Where Suarez struggles is that he's had some bad champions league seasons.

Robert Lewandowski is currently the third top scorer in Champions League history with 72 goals in 95 games . . . Luis Suarez is all the way back in 33rd place with just 26 goals in 55 games. You may be thinking that Lewandowski has played in 40 more games. And while that is true, it does not account for that big of a difference. Lewandowski has a .76 goal ratio in the Champions League, which exceeds his .68 overall ratio.

Suarez, on the other hand, has a .41 CL goal ratio, much less than his .64 career goals ratio. The gap is perhaps best shown by the barren spell Suarez had for Barcelona between 2017 and 2019, scoring just two goals in 20 champions league games.

So, you could argue Lewandowski is slightly a better finisher and performs better at the highest level. But at the end of the day, both players have 1 Champions League medal each, so maybe that goalscoring difference is overstated. With that said, let's look at the case for Luis Suarez.


The case for Luis Suarez

While Lewandowski has the edge in total goals, and Champions League success, where Suarez makes up the ground is in assists. 

Suarez has long proved that not only is he a great goal scorer, but he can also provide at an elite level for teammates.

It's hard to find concrete assists statistics, but even then, there's no debate that Suarez is on another level when compared to Lewandowski. Suarez has 237 career assists, compared to just 128 for Lewandowski. And I know what you are thinking, that Suarez had the benefit of playing with Messi and Neymar for a big chunk of his career, and assists come easy when playing with those two.

But that would be disingenuous. The most assists Lewandowski has ever recorded in a league season is eight in 2013-14. Suarez has exceeded eight assists in a season, eight different times. Five of those seasons came before he ever got to Barcelona and teamed up with Messi and Neymar.

His whole career, Suarez has proved to be an elite scorer and provider. And when you account for both goals and assists, Suarez has more career goal contributions than Lewandowski.

Then there's the legacy play.

Suarez has scored at a high level in three different leagues, recording some historical statistical accomplishments that even Lewandowski can't touch.

You may not have heard of him till he got to Liverpool, but the season before he got to England, this man scored 49 goals and added 24 assists in his 48 games for Ajax in 2009/10.

There's the 2013/14 season where Suarez recorded 31 goals in 33 Premier League games, tying the record, at the time, for most PL goals in a season. That accomplishment gets wilder when you consider that not a single one of those goals was from the penalty spot. Steven Gerrard took penalties, scoring ten that season. That means if Suarez took penalties, he could have scored 41 goals . . . Oh yeah, and he had 12 assists to finish second in the league in assists.

Then there's the 2015/16 season that will arguably go down as the best individual season a player not named Messi or Ronaldo has had. Suarez led La Liga in goals and assists with 40 goals and 18 assists in 35 games. In all competitions, he scored 59 goals and recorded 24 assists in 53 games. An amazing 83 goal contributions in one season. MSN was at the height of its powers, and Suarez led the line.

Perhaps the most telling legacy is that between 2009 and 2019, Messi and Ronaldo won the European Golden ball for most league goals, every season besides two occasions. Both times Ronaldo or Messi did not win Golden Ball in that decade, Luis Suarez was responsible.

You could also add international trophies to the book for Suarez over Lewandowski. But truth be told, playing for Uruguay in South America is much easier than playing for Poland in Europe.


Before we get to the verdict, let's talk about the other strikers left off the list and why.

Alan Shearer - The top scorer in Premier League history. Fewest premier league matches to 100 goals in history with 124 games. One of the best finishers in history. But there are few gaping holes in his resume. Alan Shearer only has one trophy to his name. And only 7 of his 379 goals were in the Champions League.


Ronaldo - Talking about the Brazilian Ronaldo here. If this were about one season, he would definitely be in the conversation. But since it's about prolonged greatness, what ten-year period of his would you use?? For example, in the three seasons between 23 to 25 years old, Ronaldo played a grand total of 24 games due to various injury issues. It's why his best goal-scoring season came in his Ballon d'Or-winning 1996-97 when he was just 20 years old. After that, he never seemed to get healthy.


Zlatan Ibrahimović - Ibrahimović talks a big game but doesn't back it up with team accomplishments. What if I told you Zlatan has never played in a major European final? What if I told you, in his entire career, Zlatan has only made it past the Champions League Quarter-Finals once? As I suspect, you start to view his impressive goal-scoring record much differently. It starts to look a lot more empty.


Karim Benzema - Here is someone who has all of the club trophies but none of the goals to have his name in this conversation. I get that he does a lot of other things for the team, but at the end of the day the job of a striker is to put the ball in the back of the net. And the fact that he's never had a 35 goal season, and only has one top goalscorer award to his name all the way back at Lyon, really hurts his resume.


Sergio Aguero - Owner of the most famous game winner in European league history, Aguero's injury history is the only thing that hurts him here when talking about the best of the best. It's why he has only led the league in scoring just once in his career. It is why he has missed plenty of big champions league games over his career, and why he's never reached 35 goals in a season.


Hugo Sanchez - Hugo Sanchez dominated the 80s, scoring 268 goals in Europe between 1980 and 89. But the game looked much different then than it does now, so he misses out.


Gerd Muller - If I'm leaving Sanchez out because his exploits came in the 80s, then Muller, who did the majority of his scoring in the 60s and 70s, certainly misses out. However, he does deserve special recognition as one of the players who helped bring Bayern to the historical powerhouse we know today.


Pele - Just wanted to acknowledge that this man randomly adds goals out of thin air anytime someone comes close to his record. At this point, I think he's counting goals he scored in his backyard.


Verdict

What ultimately sets these two apart is the prolonged dominance they have shown. Suarez is 34, and Lewandowski is 32, so their peaks have overlapped for the most part.

Over the last decade, Suarez has scored 292 goals. And that is while ignoring the 115 goals he had scored in the five years before that.

In that same decade, Lewandowski banged in 372 goals and recorded 88 goals in the five years before that.

Suarez and Lewandowski have set themselves apart in the history books as the next best goal scorers after Messi and Ronaldo. Both go about it in different styles but have had very similar careers.

As far as my answer, I am leaving it up to you. With the case presented, who is the better striker of all time, Luis Suarez or Robert Lewandowski?

Vote below



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