Pelé is often thought to be the greatest soccer player of all time. But how good was he? How do his records compare to other modern game greats, and what made this striker so special?
Who Was The Greatest Soccer Player Of All Time?
Born Edson Arantes do Nascimento in 1940, Pelé was a Brazilian striker who is often said to be the greatest soccer player of all time. When he was 15 years old, he started playing professionally. His achievements before the age of 18 had attracted the attention of soccer fans worldwide.
The greatest soccer player of all time scored 77 goals for Brazil, making him their highest all-time goalscorer. The player holds records that have never been broken. Pelé only played for two soccer clubs in his professional career. Santos signed him as a youngster and spent most of that time with him. However, he had a lasting impact on Brazil that earned him legendary status.
What Made The Greatest Soccer Player Of All Time Unique?
Pelé was a clinical, prolific goalscorer. He could strike the ball with both feet and always knew where the goal was and where the defenders would be. This ability to read the game meant he was an unstoppable force in the penalty area and always seemed to pop up just when his team needed him. This unique trait is familiar to other players who have been in the discussion of the greatest soccer player of all time.
Having played for one of the best Brazilian teams, he always had the best support around him, providing the assists to be considered the greatest football player of all time. Pelé was also an adept dribbler and had great vision, skills that would later be employed to turn him into an attacking playmaker of sorts.
Criticism Of The Greatest Soccer Player Of All Time
Some modern soccer fans criticize Pelé’s record, suggesting that it makes him look better than he was. To an extent, this is true, and while it doesn’t necessarily detract from what he achieved at the highest level, it does impact whether or not he should be viewed as the best player ever, so it’s worth discussing this before we move on.
Over 500 of Pelé’s goals came in unofficial friendlies, which would not count if a modern soccer player played them. Instead, his record includes games he played while in the armed forces, playing against amateur teams and teams nowhere near in the same league as he was.
In one of these games, he scored a total of 8 goals! Many of the teams were local teams and state teams. It would be like Harry Kane playing for Tottenham in many London friendlies against teams from the National Conference and lower. He would likely score many goals, but they wouldn’t be counted. Pelé’s goals, however, were counted in the official figures.
However, even when you dismiss all of those goals, Pelé’s record is still brilliant, as are his achievements. The truth is, he should always be included on lists of the greatest soccer player of all time, but he should not be called the leading goalscorer of all time. He wouldn’t even make it into the top ten.
If we discount the previous friendly games, Pelé played 638 games for Santos in Brazil, and he scored a total of 619 goals, an impressive record even without those friendlies. Then, in 1975, when he was 35 years old, he moved to New York Cosmos, where he played for two years, scoring 31 goals in 56 appearances.
Pelé finished as the top scorer in the Brazilian top-flight a total of 11 times, including every year from 1957 to 1965. He helped Santos win a total of 10 league titles in this time and two Intercontinental Cups, two Copa Libertadores, and a host of other domestic titles.
Pelé never played in the big European leagues like other greats (Ferenc Puskas, Alfredo Di Stefano), but the Brazilian leagues were still very competitive. What’s more, we got to see Pelé against the best players in the world every time he wore the shirt of Brazil, and this is when he truly shone. Other players who are considered the greatest soccer player of all time are Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio, Mane Garrincha, Gerd Muller, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, George Best, Marco van Basten, and Eusebio.
Pelé was just 16 years old when he played his first international match for Brazil, and the goal he scored in that debut made him the youngest player ever to achieve an international goal. However, the world saw what this young striker was capable of just a few months before his 18th birthday, in 1958, when he lined up for Brazil in the World Cup.
As the youngest player in a World Cup, he played, scored, scored a hat-trick, and won the World Cup trophy. He didn’t finish as the top goalscorer, but he did bag a hatful and was voted the Best Young Player.
Pelé would win a further two World Cups, becoming the only player in history to win more than 2, a record that still stands to this day and shows no signs of being beaten (although he did sit out most of the 1962 tournament). He also helped Brazil win the Cruz Cup, Roca Cup, and Atlantic Cup through an illustrious career that saw him win 7 Ballon d’Or trophies. Only Leo Messi has matched him winning 7 Ballon d’Ors.
Is Pelé the Greatest Football Player Of All Time?
It’s a tricky question. One that will always cause controversy. It comes down to personal opinion, and while many people don’t think he was the greatest, you’ll find a more significant percentage who do. Pelé has been called the greatest soccer player of all time, more than any other player. He dominates lists of the greatest strikers, Brazilians, and the most significant players.
In modern soccer, the standard of play is much higher than in Pelé’s day, but you can only judge a player by how much better they are than their opponents and teammates. If we do that, Pelé would undoubtedly make it into the top five greatest football player of all time and maybe even deserve the top spot, but that’s a matter of opinion, and we’ll leave that for individual soccer fans to decide.
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Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!