There are times in sport when statistics are unwanted accessories — they often serve as a mask of true greatness. But then again, there are times when they reveal a facet one would normally fail to notice.
In football, so much about a player can be gleaned from one simple statistic — the number of goals he scores. And perhaps that is one of the reasons why the list of the greatest players is dominated by the top-goalscorers. So even as the world fawns over Lionel Messi and his amazing record as a goal-scorer for Barcelona, it might be worth our while to remember the greatest goalscorer of them all.
And it isn't Pele with his 1284 goal that we are talking about here.
We are talking about a player who scored 1468 goals in 918 matches (including friendlies and reserve matches) — Josef 'Pepi' Bican.
Even if you cancel out the reserve and friendly matches, he remains the top professional goal scorer in official matches, with 805 goals in 530 matches - according to Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF).
The other statistics keeper, International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) places him second on the table though, with 518 goals compared to Pele's 541.
After considering various record-keepers and their books, Bican had a tremendous record, much better than Pele's, because he played fewer matches and had a tremendous goal-to-game ratio.
Bican was born in Vienna on September 25, 1913 to a poor Czech family. He spent most of his early days playing street football with a rolled-up sock, which gave him superb technique and an unmatched knack for improvisation. Tall and strong, the Austrian centre-forward could cover 100 metres in 10.8 seconds - almost as quickly as the top sprinters of the time. But what made hism really special was his love of scoring goals.
As Pele was nearing his landmark 1000th goal, people began wondering whether there was another player who had done the same. As a metaphor, former Austrian player 'Bimbo' Binder suggested Bican, who he claimed had scored 5000 goals.
When journalists tried to confirm this and asked Bican why he hadn't made more of a claim for his goalscoring feats, he simply said "Who'd have believed me if I said I'd scored five times as many goals as Pelé?!"
Even if you're thinking that he may have played for clubs which are unknown, then that is not the fact. The player, whose mum ran onto the pitch once to beat an opponent with an umbrella because he was persistently challenging Bican roughly, played for Rapid Vienna and Slavia Prague, both big teams in their own rights.
Even country-wise he was playing for Austria when they were at the peak of their prowess, and contenders for World Cup tournaments in the 1930s. But because of the World War, he never really played as games as he would have liked for them — 14 goals in 19 games was his tally for Austria.
As legend goes, and one of the most popular ones about Bican, he would prop empty bottles on the crossbar in training and whack them down one-by-one from 20 yards out. And on an average, he would miss just around 1 of 10. That's how good he was.
For a long time, Bican's goal-scoring feats faded from memory but for the Czech's he remains one of their greatest ever players. He passed away in December 2001 but in January that year, the International Federation of Football Historians and Statisticians awarded Bican the "Golden Ball" as the greatest goalscorer of the last century.
So next time, when you're sitting around a table and discussing how far Messi or Ronaldo will go towards Pele's feats, remember that a player named Bican -- might have been just as good or even better.
Updated Date: Mar 24, 2012 14:39 PM