The iconic Brazilian is rightfully regarded as one of the finest footballers to ever play the beautiful game, winning the World Cup three times and scoring goals in the hundreds with Santos.
However, after decades at the summit of some of football’s most revered feats, Pele has finally been knocked down the history books by the iconic duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
First, Messi became the greatest goalscorer in football history for a single club when he notched his 644th goal for Barcelona, which eclipsed the 643 that Pele amassed in his Santos days.
Then, Ronaldo moved into second in the all-time goalscoring charts behind Josef Bican when he scored the 758th goal of his career on Juventus duties, overtaking Pele’s tally in the process.
Now, it goes without saying that Pele has actually shown great courtesy with his reactions to each record, which might come as a surprise given his rather self-absorbed comments in the past.
But believe it or not, there is still some controversy surrounding the total number of goals that Pele amassed in his career with the man himself seemingly claiming to have amassed 1,238 strikes.
At least, that’s what the Instagram bio of the self-proclaimed ‘Leading Goal Scorer of All Time’ says, even if the legend himself had to deny that the caption was altered after Ronaldo’s new total.
And with Santos appearing to back up their greatest ever player by declaring that he scored over 1,000 times, the fact Pele scored only 757 goals clearly isn’t universally accepted.
So, why the gargantuan discrepancy of more than 480 goals? Well, in order to settle a back and forth so crucial to the wider GOAT debate, we dipped into the record books to find the answer.
And, well, as some might be aware already, it’s clear that the 1,238 strikes that Pele lays claim to are a little shifty when it comes to their legitimacy.
There’s no denying that Pele has kicked a football into the back of the net more than 1,000 times in matches of any kind, but only a little more than 60% of them were scored in competitive ties.
According to Sky Sports, more than 500 of Pele’s goals listed in the Guinness Book of Records were scored in unofficial friendlies and tour games.
Furthermore, the well-circulated stat that Pele once scored eight goals against Botafogo should come with the massive caveat that it’s not the ‘Botafogo’ football club you’re now thinking of.
Instead, it’s the much lesser-known Botafogo Ribeirão Preto, who ply their trade in the second tier of the Brazilian footballing pyramid, that almost conceded a triple hat-trick to Pele.
As for the five goals he notched against Nacional? Nope, that’s not the Uruguayan juggernauts, but a stateside of Sao Paolo – and the same can be said of the ‘Juventus’ team he also hit for five.
And it’s even easy to get overexcited about Pele’s record at World Cups with ‘only’ 12 of his strikes out of the 1,000 coming at the tournament for which he is arguably best known.
Now, yes, that is nothing to be sniffed at, but he was outscored by Just Fontaine at the 1958 tournament and wasn’t even Brazil’s top goalscorer on the way to victory in 1970.
As much as we’ve been keen to outline some of the issues surrounding Pele’s infamous world record, we’re not trying to opine that he’s anything less than one of the greatest footballers ever.
At the end of the day, regardless of context, scoring over 1,000 goals is something to be lauded and it’s not as though he’s counting goals in training or kickabouts like some fans like to joke.
Besides, Pele has acted with true class as Ronaldo and Messi pull up their chairs at the table of footballing gods, so it’s only fair that we show him the respect that his incredible career deserves.
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