Lionel Messi's Spanish-record total of 253 Liga goals for FC Barcelona inspired UEFA.com to search for the highest-scoring players in Europe's leagues; Elvir Islamović celebrates Yugoslavian great Stjepan Bobek.
With 403 goals in 468 league games for FK Partizan from 1945–59, Stjepan Bobek set a record that seems extremely unlikely to be broken in any of the former Yugoslavian states.
Born in Zagreb in 1923, he started his playing career with HŠK Gradjanski Zagreb during World War Two – something Bobek felt might have saved his life. "If I hadn't played football for Gradjanski, I would have been sent out to the battlefield," recalled Bobek, who died in 2010. "I was the perfect age for the army."
Fans in the former Yugoslavia were to benefit from Bobek's good fortune in the years ahead, after he was drafted to join the newly formed Partizan, founded in 1945 as the team of the Yugoslav army. "I was serving in the army, and I was very happy to be granted a military transfer from Zagreb to Belgrade so I could play for Partizan," Bobek said. "I had to abandon a lot of things for football, but because of my talent I got the opportunity to live like a king and to discover the world. That's priceless."
Bobek's own contribution was priceless to Partizan too, with his unbelievable domestic strike rate almost matched by his national-record 38 goals in 63 appearances for Yugoslavia. He represented his country at the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games, and at the 1950 and 1954 FIFA World Cups. The legendary Ferenc Puskás is reported as saying he had taken inspiration as a player from Bobek's dribbling skills and goalscoring abilities.
"I played football spontaneously," Bobek remembered. "I didn't think too much about what I did, or how to dribble, but that was a time when it was not common for coaches to give individual instructions to players. I knew how to play. The coach told me what position I was in and that was that. Dribbling was my most important skill, but I had some weaknesses like tackling and heading."
How many more he might have scored had he been able to head the ball remains an agonising 'what if?' question, but as far as Bobek was concerned, he had just one footballing regret. "I am sorry I never got to play for Dinamo Zagreb," said Bobek, who later coached his home-town club to three league titles and also took charge of Partizan, Legia Warszawa, Panathinaikos FC and Olympiacos FC. "That's my home city. I owe Zagreb something in football terms. And it was always difficult for me to play against Dinamo."
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