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How great was Pelé?

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How Great was Pelé? – Here is everything you need to know about just how great he was, and the common misconceptions surrounding him.

Rest in peace to the king of all kings, the boy wonder, the legend, Pelé. Here is everything you need to know about just how great he was, and the common misconceptions surrounding him. I’m doing a thread in his honour.

The main thing surrounding the idea of Pelé to a lot of young fans is the idea that he was good, only because he played against weaker teams all his career. This thread will discuss how great he was and how he completely dominated everyone in world football.

Pelé played 795 full games worth of minutes across official games in his career, scoring 756 goals, and racking up 367 assists, a rate of 1.41 per 90. Here’s how it compares to some other all-time great attackers.

READ: Pelé: Gods of football do not get days off.

Despite what many think, Pelé didn’t just play as a striker (No.9). He moved roles across his career, but played mainly as a “Ponta de lança”, a second striker/number 10. Similar to Lionel Messi in a way, he was simply way to good at football to play solely as a striker.

Pele's Career attacking output rateIt is important to note that with footage from those times, the frame rate can make players appear a lot slower and more robotic than they actually were.

It’s also a myth that Pelé was so prolific just because of the era. The scoring rate of that era wasn’t too different to the elite European modern game, about 5% higher scoring than now. Even when judging his attacking output as a % of team goals scored, he’s still above the lot.

Pele's direct team goalsinvolvementsOne attempted criticism of Pelé is that he never played in Europe. This would be similar to saying Messi never played in South America, it is completely irrelevant. The Brazilian league was just as strong (probably stronger) than any European league at the time.

Brazil won 3/4 World Cups between 1958 and 1970, with every single player in those squads playing their club football in Brazil. It is a simple fact that a lot of the best players in the world at the time played in Brazil.


One reason Pelé didn’t move to a European club, was because he was legally declared a Brazilian national treasure, preventing him from transferring to a European club.

It makes ZERO sense that a player with a World Cup record as elite as Pelé’s would have spent his club career playing against poor opposition, and then randomly be so good at World Cups.

His astonishing World Cup record:

14 games

12 goals (0 pens)

8 assists according to opta data

Pelé tops nearly every single category, but he was extremely prominent as a youngster. Messi, R9, Neymar, Mbappe etc, all phenomenal youngsters, not a touch on how consistently brilliant Pelé was. He would be top of a graph like this for every age between 16-24.

In his prime as a 21-22 year old in 1961-62, Pelé played 68 90s in official games. He scored 108 goals (8 pens) and registered 58 assists, 2.44 G/A per 90 across two years in his prime. In ‘friendly’ games vs European teams in this time frame, 176 goals in 124 games.

career goal contribution of pele before age 24When going into detail, you’ll find his performances and record in big games is phenomenal. Even in the big anticipated European tour games vs Madrid and Benfica etc, he was usually the star of the show, often over-shadowing the likes of Eusebio, Puskas etc.

If you took his numbers from ‘big games’ (Finals, Major international tournaments, KO stage club tournaments, games vs top 10 nations):

79 matches

75 goals

51 assists

Another criticism people often state about him, is that he ‘only’ won the Copa Libertadores (UCL equivalent) on two occasions. In reality, due to touring Europe, he only played in 3 editions, playing 15 games. He registered 17 goals and 11 assists in those games, mind-blowing.

He never won the Copa America, again, touring games often stopped him from taking part. He only played in one edition, 1959, aged 18

6 games

8 goals

2 assists

He was player of the tournament, obviously.

long with his phenomenal technical ability and tactical astuteness, Pelé was a sheer freak of nature physically. A 1975 article from the New York Times found he could run 100m in 11 seconds, and had a heart rate 39% lower than the average athlete.

That rate at the time was the world record ahead of the best sprinter. Something rarely being stated till today because the nature of information back then wasn’t published weekly like today.

How was Pelé viewed by people at the time? His fellow peers, fans etc? Interestingly, France Football (Balon D’Or magazine), ran a player of the century vote, asking every Balon D’Or winner who they thought was the best player of the 20th century. Pelé won, comfortably.

READ: Why has Brazil decline so much at Football?

France Football also published a re-evaluation of the Balon D’Or, stating who would have won if South American’s could have won the award before 1995. They decided Pelé would have won the Balon D’Or on 7 occasions. The same number Lionel Messi currently has, quite fitting.

Before Pelé, the number 10 was just another number, he made it iconic. He was the first global superstar in football, a man who transcended the sport like no other, a man who brought joy to millions.

And yes, I was writing this thread over the last couple of days, and finished it this morning. I am not trying to be opportunistic, I make no money or anything from this, I just wanted to pay respects in a way that combines what this page does. Thank you Edson Arantes Do Nacimento.


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