The Golden Boot or Golden Shoe, which is awarded to the highest goalscorer in a World Cup tournament, is a distinction that comes with a chequered history. The roll of honour misses out on some of the most iconic names from World Cup history—Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Cruyff, Platini and Romario—all players who shaped modern football, and made the World Cups they played in the stuff of legend. Many players who were awarded the Golden Boot sunk without a trace—who remembers what Toto Schillaci did after the 1990 World Cup? Or what happened to Oleg Salenko’s career after the 1994 World Cup? But the Golden Shoe also highlighted the exploits of some of the giants of the game, their goal-scoring abilities catapulting them to the status of national icons—what is Portuguese football without Eusebio? Bulgaria without Stoichkov? Or Hungary without Kocsis?
(Argentina, 8 goals)
The diminutive Argentine almost took his country to the victory podium in the inaugural World Cup with his uncanny ability to score—a hat-trick on debut against Mexico, two in the semi-final, and a goal in the
final to give his team the lead. But it wasn’t enough—hosts Uruguay won the final 4-2. Stábile never played another game for Argentina.
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(Czechoslovakia, 5 goals)
Call it the jinx of the Golden Shoe—Nejedlý participated only in two World Cups (1934 and 1938) before he broke his leg and ended his international career, a pattern that seems to be fairly common among those on this list.
Leonidas da Silva
(Brazil, 7 goals)
The self-styled inventor of the bicycle kick, Leonidas was known as the “Rubber Man”—don’t ask why. A photo of him scoring from a bicycle kick in the 1938 World Cup became an iconic football image.
Ademir Marques de Menezes
(Brazil, 9 goals)
The scorer of the first goal ever in a competitive match at the legendary Maracana stadium in Brazil, Ademir formed a dreaded attacking trio with Zizinho and Jair in the 1950 tournament, where hosts Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final.
Sándor Kocsis Péter
(Hungary, 11 goals)
Kocsis is the best goalscorer in the history of modern football, based on scoring average— 1.10 goals per game—the highest in international football. His record average of 2.2 goals per game in the 1954 World Cup is unbroken. A hat-trick in the opening game, four goals in Hungary’s next game against Germany, two in the quarter-final against Brazil, two more in the semis against defending champions Uruguay—few footballers can even dream of such a record. The incredible scoring machine was stopped in the final against Germany, which Hungary lost 4-2—their first loss in four years.
(France, 13 goals)
Fontaine has scored the most goals ever in a single World Cup. Though France did not win the 1958 edition, Fontaine became the second player after Alcides Ghiggia (Uruguay, 1950 World Cup) to score in every match of the tournament.
Just Fontaine: His record of 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup is still unbeaten. AFP
Manuel “Garrincha” Francisco dos Santo
(Brazil, 4 goals)
(Chile, 4 goals)
Edvaldo “Vava” Izídio Neto
(Brazil, 4 goals)
(Yugoslavia, 4 goals)
(USSR, 4 goals)
(Hungary, 4 goals)
Born with a deformed spine, a bent right leg, and a shorter (and bent) left leg, Garrincha was not supposed to be a footballer. So he went the other extreme and became one of the best ever. In Brazil, his incredible skills earned him many sobriquets, including “Joy of the people” and “Angel with bent legs”, and he was instrumental in Brazil’s second successive World Cup triumph. Perhaps the most endearing story about Garrincha is that he adopted a dog that had run on to the pitch during Brazil’s quarter-final match against England—taking him home along with the World Cup trophy.
Besides Garrincha, Neto deserves a special mention for being the first player to score in the final of two different World Cups, helping Brazil defend their title.
(Portugal, 9 goals)
This was the stage that catapulted Eusebio to the status of a national hero in Portugal as he dragged the team to their best-ever finish in a World Cup (third place).
(Germany, 10 goals)
Muller was one of the most successful goalscorers of his era, with 68 goals in 62 games for West Germany. His record of 14 goals in World Cup tournaments (1966 and 1970) was only broken in 2006 by Ronaldo, who scored his 15th goal in his fourth World Cup (he played in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006).
(Poland, 7 goals)
The most capped player in the history of Polish football, and also the only Golden Shoe winner from Poland, Lato is now the president of the Polish Football Association.
(Argentina, 6 goals)
Kempes played for Argentina in three World Cups—1974, 1978, and 1982—and was instrumental in their 1978 triumph, scoring two goals in the final against the Netherlands. He is also one of only two players to have won all three major trophies at a World Cup—the Golden Shoe, the Golden Ball (for the most valuable player) and the World Cup itself. Paolo Rossi repeated that feat in the next edition.
(Italy, 6 goals)
Rossi made it just in time for the 1982 World Cup after serving a two-year suspension for his involvement in a betting scandal. The result? A hat-trick against Brazil in the quarter-final, a brace against Poland in the semis, and a goal in the final against Germany to help Italy lift their third trophy.
(England, 6 goals)
The only English player to have won the Golden Boot, he is also one of the few footballers who has never been booked by a referee. How he managed that is beyond comprehension, but you can introduce him to your mother. He is also now a “freeman of the City of Leicester”, which entitles him to graze his sheep in the city’s Town Hall square.
Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci
(Italy, 6 goals)
The Italians called the 1990 World Cup “the magical nights of Toto Schillaci”, and why not? The debutant scored in almost every match. Schillaci’s career went downhill after that, and he scored only one goal for Italy in his career.
(Russia, 6 goals)
(Bulgaria, 6 goals)
Salenko’s international career lasted all of nine matches—eight for Russia and one for Ukraine. He scored a record five goals against Cameroon in Russia’s opening match, and then followed it up with one against Sweden, his last international goal.
(Croatia, 6 goals)
Suker became a national hero after his exploits propelled Croatia to a fantastic third- place finish in their first World Cup as an independent country.
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima
(Brazil, 8 goals)
Every time Ronaldo conjured up a sudden burst of speed from nowhere, leaving defenders trailing like a blur in some video game, you knew there was a goal at the end of it. Ronaldo did this against every opponent in the 2002 edition, except England in the quarter-final. He scored twice in the final against Germany to gift Brazil their record fifth title.
(Germany, 5 goals)
Klose loves the World Cup. He scored five goals in 2002, all with his head, but was outscored by Ronaldo. In 2006, playing at home, he made sure he was on top of the scoring chart—this time by using his feet.
Compiled by Manoj Madhavan and Rudraneil Sengupta.
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