SK Slavia Praha great Josef Bican scored more top-flight goals than any player in Europe, saying: "If I got five chances, I scored five – if I got seven, it was seven."
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Lionel Messi's Spanish-record haul of 253 Liga goals for FC Barcelona set UEFA.com out to search for the highest-scoring players in Europe's leagues; Ondřej Zlámal salutes the terrifying efficiency of Josef Bican.
It has been calculated that during his club career, which ended when he was well into his 40s, Josef Bican netted over 800 goals. With 518 league strikes – 18 in Austria and 500 in Czechoslovakia – he is the most prolific scorer on record in any European top flight, exceeding even the great Ferenc Puskás's tally of 517.
"I heard so many times that it was easier to score in my day," he said later in life. "But the chances were the same a hundred years ago and will be the same a hundred years from now. The situation is identical and everybody would agree that a chance should be a goal. If I got five chances, I scored five goals – if I got seven then it was seven."
Born in Vienna to Czech parents, Bican's father František was a footballer but his death from a football-related kidney injury left the forward to be raised in poverty. Nonetheless, he would credit his lack of boots for the extraordinary control he was to demonstrate for local sides SK Rapid Wien and SK Admira Wien as well as Austria's national team in the 1930s.
If the tall handsome attacker's strike rate was startling in the Austrian league, it became genuinely phenomenal after a move to SK Slavia Praha in 1937. In 217 league games for Slavia from 1937–48 he notched 395 goals, and he continued tormenting defences into the 1950s with the likes of FC Vítkovice, FC Hradec Králové and latterly Dynamo Praha – who became Slavia once more in the 1960s.
Also capped by Czechoslovakia, his place in Slavia folklore endures. The Prague side marked what would have been Bican's 100th birthday in September 2013 by wearing a shirt bearing a replica of the player's signature. Bican, who died in 2001, later coached the club (and several others besides) yet it is his contribution as a player which his legend rests upon. He won five Czechoslovak titles with Slavia and was the league's top marksman in ten seasons.
"'Pepi' was a player with all the qualities of a star," recalled former Slavia team-mate Jan Andrejkovič. "Excellent technique with left or right foot, outstanding headers, perfect positional play, precise passing and, above all, an incredible goalscorer. Any forward would dream of winning as many golden boots as him." Even Lionel Messi may, like Bican, have to play until he is 42 to have any chance of matching that career total.