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World Cup 2022: What makes a Golden Boot winner?

Thomas Muller, James Rodriguez with his Golden Boot award and Harry Kane
Thomas Muller (left) in 2010, James Rodriguez (centre) in 2014 and Harry Kane (right) in 2018 are the last three winners of the Golden Boot

The World Cup Golden Boot – it is the individual prize that goalscorers seek above all others. The chance to carve your name into football immortality.

The list of winners includes some true greats, such as Eusebio, Gerd Muller and the Brazilian Ronaldo, and others who seized their moment for greatness, among them Just Fontaine, Salvatore Schillaci and Oleg Salenko.

BBC Sport has analysed each of them to see what makes a Golden Boot winner in football’s biggest tournament and whether those qualities enable us to make a prediction of who might win it in Qatar.

From Stabile to Kane

From 1930 to 1978, there was no official title for being the top scorer at a World Cup. That changed for the tournament in Spain in 1982, when it was branded, somewhat incongruously, as the golden shoe. It wasn’t until 2010 that they gave the award a more fitting football-themed rebrand.

From Argentine Guillermo Stabile in Uruguay in 1930 to England’s Harry Kane four years ago in Russia, 27 players have won the award across 21 tournaments…

World Cup Golden Boot winners - Guillermo Stabile (1930); Oldrich Nejedly (1934); Leonidas (1938); Ademir (1950); Sandor Kocsis (1954); Just Fontaine (1958); Florian Albert, Garrincha, Valentin Ivanov, Drazan Jerkovic, Leonel Sanchez, Vava (all 1962); Eusebio (1966); Gerd Muller (1970); Grzegorz Lato (1974); Mario Kempes (1978); Paolo Rossi (1982); Gary Lineker (1986); Salvatore Schillaci (1990); Oleg Salenko, Hristo Stoichkov (1994); Davor Suker (1998); Ronaldo (2002); Miroslav Klose (2006); Thomas Muller (2010); James Rodriguez (2014); Harry Kane (2018)

Nobody has matched the goals haul of France’s Just Fontaine at a single World Cup, and it is unlikely anyone ever will.

Fontaine scored 13 times in Sweden in 1958. This came from just six games and included a hat-trick in an opening 7-3 win over Paraguay and four in the 6-3 third-place play-off victory over West Germany. Yes, despite his monumental effort that summer, France didn’t even make the final.

The fewest goals required to win the Golden Boot is four, which saw six players share the award in 1962 – the first of only two occasions in which the honour has officially gone to more than one player at a single tournament along with the one split between Russia’s Salenko and Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov at USA 1994.

In 2010, four players – Thomas Muller (Germany), David Villa (Spain), Wesley Sneijder (the Netherlands) and Diego Forlan (Uruguay) – all scored five, but the boot went to the German forward courtesy of his three assists.

This was in line with a rule brought in after the 1994 World Cup, stipulating that players tied for most goals will be separated by who scored the fewest number of penalties, then the player with the most assists and finally, if required, who played the fewest minutes.

No golden oldies

Winning Golden Boots is not an old man’s game. Only one player over 30 when the tournament in which they top-scored began has ever claimed the prize, that being the brilliant Davor Suker of Croatia, who was only five months past his 30th birthday when he netted six times at France ’98.

The youngest Golden Boot winner is Hungary’s Florian Albert, one of 1962’s six winners, who was 20 years, eight months and 15 days old at the start of the tournament in Chile.

Germany’s Thomas Muller was just 14 days older at the start of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, in which he netted five times. He’ll be at Qatar too, aiming to become the first two-time winner of the award.

Harry Kane with his Golden Boot award in 2018

Brazil lead the way

As the World Cup’s most successful side with five trophy wins, it makes sense that Brazil would have the most Golden Boot winners, those being Leonidas (1938), Ademir (1950), Garrincha and Vava (both 1962) and Ronaldo (2002).

Germany have three wins, while Argentina, England, Hungary, Italy and Russia (all two) are the only other nations with more than one winner.

World Cup Golden Boot winners by nationality - Brazil (5); Germany (3); Argentina, England, Hungary, Italy, Russia (all 2); Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czechoslovakia, France, Poland, Portugal, Yugoslavia (all 1)

Brazil is also the country where most Golden Boot winners play their club football, with four. However, the last of those accolades came way back in 1962.

It is illustrative of the shifting money and power in football, and the ability and willingness of players to seek out new challenges overseas, that the first 15 Golden Boot winners played their club football in the country of their birth, but six of the 12 winners from 1978 onwards have played abroad.

Where Golden Boot winners were based - Brazil, Spain (both 4); Germany, Italy (both 3); England, France, Hungary (all 2); Argentina, Chile, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Yugoslavia (1)

Only four of the winners have done so in a home World Cup. With all due respect to Qatar and their leading forwards Akram Afif and Almoez Ali, it’s unlikely we’ll see a home winner this time.

Experience and form

Experience is a precious commodity when it comes to winning a Golden Boot.

Not since Stabile has a player won the award having not previously played for their country. Italy’s Schillaci (1990) and Thomas Muller (2010) had one and two caps respectively before announcing themselves on the international stage in the grandest of fashions.

The most caps a winner has had going into a successful World Cup is Ronaldo, with 57 in 2002.

James Rodriguez

Schillaci, Muller and Salenko had never scored for their country before setting a high in their respective tournaments.

On average, though, Golden Boot winners have netted 11 times for their country. Hungary’s Sandor Kocsis (1954) and Ronaldo (2002) had the most with 37.

As you’d expect, most Golden Boot winners were in form for their club leading into a World Cup. Only three players from 1966 onwards have scored less than double figures for their clubs in the season leading up to the tournament – and among those, Paolo Rossi in 1982 was banned for two years and Ronaldo in 2002 was heavily impacted by injury.

The most goals in a league season before a World Cup is the 38 scored by Bayern Munich and West Germany in the 1969-70 Bundesliga campaign.

18 - the average number of league goals scored by a Golden Boot winner for their club in the season before a World Cup

In addition, only two Golden Boot winners have played for clubs that finished outside the top four of their respective league in the season before the World Cup.

In the tournament itself…

It’s not rocket science that the further a nation goes in the tournament, the more opportunities a player will have to score.

Only one Golden Boot winner failed to get out of the group stage with his team – Salenko with Russia in 1994. He is an anomaly in that five of his six goals in the USA came in one game.

World Cup stage reached by Golden Boot winner - Winner (5), finalist (4), semi-final (13), quarter-finals (4), last 16 (0), group stage (1)

Pick a winner…

So, does all of this information enable us to put forward a prediction for who will take the Golden Boot in Qatar this winter?

Using the data, we are looking for a forward who plays for a team likely to make it to the quarter-finals, so we’ve narrowed it to those from the top eight favourites to win the tournament.

They have to be 30 years of age or younger, ideally around 24-25, and will likely be based in Europe at a club in the top four of their respective league.

They should have at least 22 caps and 11 goals for their country going in to the tournament and be in decent goalscoring form for their club.

Here are the players who come closest to fitting the bill in rough order of most suitable…

Player Country Based Age Caps/goals Club pos. Club goals 22/23
Lautaro Martinez Argentina Italy 25 40/21 5 7
Kylian Mbappe France France 23 59/28 1 12
Serge Gnabry Germany Germany 27 36/20 1 8
Leroy Sane Germany Germany 26 47/11 1 5
Harry Kane England England 29 75/51 4 12
Neymar Brazil France 30 121/75 1 11
Alvaro Morata Spain Spain 30 57/27 5 5
Richarlison Brazil England 25 38/17 4 0
Andre Silva Portugal Germany 27 51/19 15 2
Memphis Depay Netherlands Spain 28 81/42 2 1

Index and Golden Boot winners graphic supplied by Raj Dhunna