What would football be without great creative players? Messi, Modric, Xavi, Iniesta, De Bruyne — the list of players who have inspired fans across the world with their ability to create glorious chances is extremely illustrious. For such players, football can often be seen as an art form, measured in special moments rather than pure numbers.
However, it's impossible to ignore the importance of data and statistics within the modern game, which has changed the way we discuss football, making more and more supporters fluent in the language of ball retention, possession, and Expected Goals.
One of the most basic and widely-used statistics out there is the assist. Assists are recorded in the vast majority of professional games, and football commentators and pundits talk about them no end. That's why in this article we'll be focusing on the importance of assists in soccer.
First, we'll give you a definition of what this statistic is all about, before moving onto the main focus of this article: the top 10 players with the most assists in soccer history.
A soccer assist is a pass that leads directly to a goal. The metric was first recorded by FIFA in 1994, and it's now become one of the most commonly used stats in the global game.
A super common occurrence within football, an assist is counted as any pass from an offensive player (whether intentional or not) that leads directly to a goal for their team. Think De Bruyne whipping in a pinpoint cross and Erling Haaland powering a bullet header directly past the keeper: this is a classic example of an assist.
There are a few extra details and rules that it could be worth you knowing about assists before we get into our list of the most prolific goal creators, so feel free to check out our detailed guide to assists in soccer for more information about this aspect of the game.
Below, you'll find a list of the 10 most prolific creators of goalscoring opportunities in the history of world soccer. It's worth bearing in mind that these are the figures at the time of writing, with many of the players in this list still operating at the top of their game.
The fact that each year FIFA's Puskas Award delivers a commemorative trophy to the player in world football who has scored the "most beautiful" goal of the calendar year is a good indication of the status Ferenc Puskas enjoys within the global game.
The legendary Hungarian forward, who led his nation to the 1954 World Cup final and won 3 European Cups with Real Madrid, is the player with the most assists in soccer history; in 719 career appearances, he scored an astounding 708 goals, and made 404 assists, an utterly remarkable attacking record.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, the vision, intelligence, creativity and finishing skills of Brazil and Santos legend Pele helped guide his country to a record three World Cup wins (1958, 1962, 1970). And Brazil's all-time leading goalscorer also notched a staggering amount of assists for club and country during his long career.
Alongside his 643 goals from 659 games at club level, he also grabbed a total of 369 assists in his career, a tally that only the very best in history can beat.
Hot on the heels of Pele and Puskas is Argentina's World Cup-winning captain Lionel Messi. The iconic former Barca forward is considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time, and his creative record matches up to that status. In total, Messi has notched an astonishing 361 career assists for club and country (as well as 820 goals and counting).
And the 35-year-old doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon — he's brought an unprecedented level of global attention to Major League Soccer since joining Inter Miami this summer and is scoring goals and notching assists for fun in the US league. Who knows what his assist tally will be by the time he retires?
One of the architects of the modern possession game now favoured by most teams across Europe, Cruyff was a hugely influential figure within Dutch football throughout the 20th century. He won three Ballon d'Or trophies whilst at Ajax in the 1970s, and was instrumental in the development of the Dutch school of Total Football.
Given his wonderful creativity for both club and country (one of the things he's best remembered for is the invention of the famous Cruyff Turn), it's no surprise that the Netherlands' greatest ever player registered a ridiculous amount of assists in his career (358 in total).
Thomas Muller can sometimes go under the radar; a self-described Raumdeuter (space investigator) who has an extraordinary knack for turning up in dangerous positions at the right time to provide a killer pass or finish, he is a Bayern Munich great who has contributed immensely to the club's decade of dominance at the top of the Bundesliga.
This has led to him registering over 300 assists for Germany and Bayern over the years, and with the 33-year-old now partnered up top by England captain Harry Kane, he could have plenty more yet to come.
During his peak years for Liverpool and Barcelona, talismanic Uruguay forward Luis Suarez was one of the best players in the world. His intricate footwork, dribbling ability, attacking vision and ice-cold finishing made him a handful for even the best defenders around, and his tally of assists is all the proof you need for that.
He's currently at Brazilian side Gremio gradually adding to that record, so don't be surprised to see Suarez pass the 300 mark for assists before he hangs up his boots.
Only Lionel Messi has more La Liga assists than Luis Figo, the Portuguese star who sent shockwaves around the footballing world when he moved from Barcelona to Real Madrid in the summer of 2000.
The controversial transfer isn't what his career should be remembered for, though; Figo was a wonderful player who as well as registering 283 career assists for Portugal, Barca, Madrid, Sporting CP and Inter Milan, was also a huge inspiration for Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who would later become arguably Portugal's greatest ever player.
A versatile winger with excellent crossing ability, intelligent movement and top notch passing skills, one club man Ryan Giggs went down in history as a Manchester United legend when he retired in 2014. During his time with the Red Devils, he won 13 Premier League titles (more than any other player in history), as well as 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and 2 Champions Leagues.
A big part of his game during this time was his ability to provide top quality assists, of which he tallied up a seriously impressive 277 in total.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the greatest goalscorers in footballing history, but before he swapped Manchester United for Real Madrid and began the process of moulding himself into the insanely clinical No. 9 we now view him as, he was primarily a creative player.
It's hardly surprising, then, that he's managed to record a whopping 268 assists in his career, and with Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr, he continues to boost that tally, a mission helped by the club's signing of fellow European stars like Marcelo Brozovic and Sadio Mane.
Angel Di Maria played a key role in helping Argentina get their hands on the 2022 World Cup, his 36th minute goal boosting Argentina's march toward world dominance. And across the 35-year-old's career more broadly, he's regularly been a key creative force in almost every side he's played for, whether it's PSG, Real Madrid, or Benfica.
The Argentine continues to play in the Portuguese top division and operate at international level, so it's possible he may move up this list in the near future.
Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs made an astonishing 632 Premier League appearances for the Red Devils, so it's no shock that he tops the list for the most assists notched in England's top flight. In total, Giggs recorded 162 assists in his career, which spanned over two decades.
The record for the most assists in a single calendar year is held by a slightly surprising name: Serbian forward Dusan Tadic (currently of Fenerbahce), who provided an outstanding 37 assists for Ajax during 2021. However, it's no shock that the player with the most assists in a single season is Lionel Messi, who managed to grab 21 assists for Barcelona during the 2019/20 La Liga campaign.
Brazil legend Pele is the FIFA World Cup's most decorated player, and one of the titles he can claim is the player with the most assists in the competition's history with 8. However, according to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, he shares that record with two legendary Argentine players: Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, who both also have 8 World Cup assists.
For twenty years, Thierry Henry held a sole record for the most assists in a Premier League season, with his 20 top flight assists for Arsenal in 2002-03 seemingly unmatchable. However, he now shares that record with Manchester City's Kevin De Bruyne, who also registered 20 during the 2019-20 campaign.
No surprises here; the two players at the top of the list for most assists in Champions League history are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But it's CR7 that edges it, with 42 assists recorded in European football's most prestigious competition.
Lionel Messi holds the record for the most goals in La Liga history (474), and crucially, the most assists in La Liga history, too. In total, he's registered 192 assists in the Spanish top flight (all for Barcelona), with his most productive season seeing him notch up 21 assists in a campaign.
Former USMNT star Landon Donovan is a giant of the MLS, and the creative midfielder has an assists record to match with the record number of assists. Spending many years at the top of US soccer with LA Galaxy and San Diego Earthquakes, Donovan won 6 MLS Cups and notched 136 assists in the league.
Brazil star Neymar didn't quite scrape into the list of the top 10 players with most assists in soccer history, but he was extremely close, and his creative record at international level is something extremely special. In his career with the Selecao, Neymar has provided 51 assists, an all-time record on the international stage not even matched by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.