No one can deny the greatness of Pele and his propensity to score goals. The exact number of goals in his career will forever be the subject of debate.
Pele often says that one of the reasons he should be considered the greatest player of all time is because of his feat of scoring more than 1,000 goals. But many dispute his goal count because Pele includes goals scored in friendlies or matches against semi-professional or even amateur teams.
Many of his goals come at a time when it is not easy to register match statistics and not all of them are recorded. There is also a difference in the total number of matches he has played.
According to Pele, he is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the sport with 1,283 goals in 1,366 games. That would be an extraordinary rate of 0.93 goals per game.
If only the number of goals in official matches is counted, Pele’s mark is significantly lower regardless of source, at less than 800 goals. That would put him behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Romario and Josef Bican, who played before Pele’s time.
Pele has scored a total of 95 goals with the Brazil national team, but 18 of them have been against clubs or combined teams in matches not normally included in official statistics.
Another 34 goals were scored in friendlies against other national teams.
Pele played almost 550 unofficial matches, partly because his Brazilian club Santos made a fortune playing exhibition matches and touring with great football players around the world.
Some of Pele’s list of goals includes friendlies and exhibitions against low-profile opponents. He has scored against under-23 national teams, mixed teams, regional teams and even in several military events while he served in the Brazilian army.
Among his opponents are Saudi Arabia’s under-23 national team, Uruguay’s armed forces club and Rio de Janeiro’s athletes’ federation. In total, it is believed that more than 500 of Pele’s goals have come from unofficial matches.
Argentina’s great Diego Maradona was among those who criticized Pele for his controversial goal count.
“Who did you score them against?” Maradona asked in an interview with Pele on a TV show years ago. “Your nephews in the backyard?”
The Guinness World Record recorded Pele with 1,279 goals in 1,363 matches. It said he scored more goals in “special appearances” after the end of his career, but did not specify them.
Pele played a few celebratory games after officially retiring in 1977. In the farewell match that year, he played one half against Santos and the other against Cosmos, his last club.
Football’s governing body announced Pele had 1,281 goals in 1,363 games, two more than the Guinness record for the same number of games. The reason for the discrepancy is unclear, as no organization has provided a complete list of Pele’s goals and matches.
FIFA adds that Pele has twice scored more than 100 goals in a single season, in 1959 (127 goals) and 1961 (110 goals).
Santos also said Pele has scored 1,281 goals in 1,365 matches. It says that 1,091 of those goals were scored while he was playing for the Brazilian club. Santos said he also broke the 100-goal mark in 1965, with 106 goals.
Even the stats site RSSSF, arguably the most accurate source of football statistics, recognizes Pele with varying totals.
RSSSF lists Pele with 1,284 goals in 1,375 matches, limiting his total goals in official matches to 769 goals.
The site said Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo topped the list of all-time goalscorers, followed by Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
OTHER TOP Scorers
When it comes to goals in unofficial matches, Pele is not the only player to score more than 1,000 times.
Bican, who has played for both Austria and the Czech Republic, tops the list with more than 1,400 goals, followed by Brazilian striker Arthur Friedenreich.
Guinness mentions Friedenreich, who played in the early 1900s, saying he has “scored 1,329 undocumented goals” in his 26-year career.